Friday, March 11, 2011

Sports stars praise Eagles' anti-homophobia stance

Four sportsmen who broke ground by daring to declare their homosexuality have praised Sheffield Eagles’ decision to take a stand against homophobia in sport.

Dual-code rugby international Gareth Thomas, former Rugby League star turned actor Ian Roberts, England cricketer Steven Davies and former NBA basketball hall-of-famer John Amaechi all hit the headlines by “coming out”.

Now they’re backing Sheffiield Eagles decision to challenge sport’s last great taboo by wearing a kit bearing the slogan “Homophobia: Tackle It!” in their Cooperative Championship clash with Widnes Vikings this Sunday (March 13, Bramall Lane, Sheffield, K.O 3.00pm).

“I think Sheffield’s decision to make this kind of statement is incredible and they deserve a huge amount of credit,” said former Australian Rugby League international Ian Roberts, who was the first rugby player of either code to “come out” in the late 1990s.

Roberts' decision to “out” himself – a brave move at the time – won plaudits across the world, and criticism from some within Australian Rugby League.

“I’ve never heard of any team, in any sport anywhere in the world doing something like this before and I think it’s absolutely fantastic,” Roberts continued.“Sheffield are directly addressing a topic that many people still regard as taboo, it’s something people don’t like to talk about so it’s great to see a team taking the step to address that issue.

“This type of initiative has been a long time coming and it’s great to see a Rugby League club taking the first step and hopefully now this will help any of the young kids out there who look for role models in the sporting world to see that there are people who will support them regardless of their sexuality.”

Former NBA star John Amaechi faced similar headlines to Roberts when he used his autobiography to reveal his homosexuality, in the process becoming the first basketball player – and the NBA’s only Hall of Fame inductee – to “come out”.

Manchester-born Amaechi, now a broadcaster and motivational speaker, was quick to give his support to the Eagles’ initiative.

“I am really proud to see Sheffield Eagles take such a proactive step to break stereotypes and embrace their entire fan base,” said Amaechi. “It says something truly positive that it is Rugby out of all our top sports and a team based in Sheffield in particular – a city I am proud to say I lived in – that are leading the way."

Since revealing his sexuality in a landmark 2009 interview, former Wales and British & Irish Lions rugby union international turned Crusaders RL Rugby League star Gareth Thomas has become a champion for LGBT issues. He won Stonewall’s “Man Of The Year” in 2010 and this year became a patron for LGBT History month – one of the sponsors of Sheffield Eagles’ groundbreaking “Homophobia: Tackle It!” shirts.

"I am really proud to be a part of a sport that is moving forward so pro-actively on the equality agenda,” Thomas said. “I would like to congratulate the Sheffield Eagles for leading the way in promoting work to tackle homophobia and transphobia in Rugby League and in sport.

"I think the world of sport is moving forward, especially after the ‘coming out’ of another two elite sportsmen this last month; Graeme Obree, the cyclist and Steve Davies the England cricketer. I wish them and others who are thinking of talking about their sexuality every support and warmest wishes. It is still not easy but it is liberating.”

Thomas’ groundbreaking move to reveal his sexuality while still in the midst of his career has recently become the inspiration for a Hollywood movie fronted by Mickey Rourke. The Wales and Crusaders RL star believes that sport can continue to help break down the barriers around homosexuality especially in the lead up to the 2012 London Olympics.

"I am proud to be a Patron of LGBT History Month and Schools Out,” he said. “They have organised and spearheaded the sponsorship of the 'Homophobia: Tackle It!" team shirts that Sheffield Eagles will wear on Sunday. They have brought together the Rugby League, Pride Sports, the NUT, UCU and NASUWT to sponsor the shirts.

"There is still much work for them to do in the build up to the Olympics next year but I know they are busy working behind the scenes to ensure that the biggest sporting event that our country has seen for many years will be a success for everyone, of every sexuality; from elite athletes, to local amateur teams and the thousands of volunteers who will be support the event. Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Trans people will be participating in 2012 in every way!"

Steven Davies became the first cricketer of any nationality to declare his homosexuality when he came out two weeks ago. He too has shown his support for Sheffield Eagles’ historic stance.

“Personally, Gareth Thomas was a real inspiration to me,” Davies said. “He made me believe it would be possible for me to do the same and anything that helps even one person should be applauded.

“There may be added pressures in sports as the number of people that have come out is so small so it's great that Rugby League is taking this step.”

Sheffield Eagles' historic "Homophobia: Tackle It!" shirts have been funded by LGBT History Month and Pride Sports with assistance from the UCU (Universities and Colleges Union), the NUT (National Union of Teachers) and the Rugby Football League.

Tickets for Sheffield Eagles game against Widnes Vikings on Sunday, 13 March are on sale now from the Sheffield Utd FC ticket office at Bramall Lane (0871 19951889)

Fans can order replicas of the Eagles’ historic “Homophobia: Tackle It!” shirts at

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