"Gender: To Be Determined" is collaborative, interactive blog brought to you by University of Denver students in Lindsey Feitz's "Introduction to Gender and Women's Studies" class.

If you are interested in gender, sexuality, and popular culture, this is the blog for you.

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Sunday, October 9, 2011


As I was questioning about what to base my blog on ... I surfed the web for numerous topics in regards to sexuality. I started to adjust my focus to sexuality in sports and came across Gareth Thomas and his story. First off I’ll start with a little back ground info on Gareth himself and the sport of rugby….Photobucket (a)

Rugby is a form of football played between two teams in which you have the freedom to carry the ball, block with hands and arms, and even tackle while being in continuous action. So basically it is a bunch of big, heterosexual (or is it just heterosexual men?), sweaty, muscled men running around the field with a leather ball trying to make a Tri (touchdown/goal if you will). So now that that is out of the way let’s get on to Gareth himself…Photobucket (b)

Gareth Thomas is a Welsh professional rugby footballer. He plays rugby league for the Crusaders in Europe’s Super League. In 2007 he made history as becoming the first Welshman to win 100 international caps in the rugby union. Thomas married his childhood friend Jemma in 2001. Thomas had wanted to lift the closeted "weight" off his shoulders and to feel liberated by telling everyone that he was actually gay. He divorced his wife in 2007 and in 2009 he publicly announced that he was gay.

Thomas’ public confirmation of his sexuality made him the first openly gay professional rugby player. Thomas told the Daily Mail, “I don’t want to be known as the gay rugby player. I am a rugby player; first and foremost I am a man.” (1)


Thomas was the master of disguise as a straight man. He would play off the “macho man” stereotype. He would go to the bars with the guys and would always be the first one start a fight. This relates to Michael Messner’s article Becoming 100% Straight. Messner discusses how in the sports institutions peers manually construct the definition of ‘masculinity’ and ‘heterosexuality’ and how players will act to control others’ perceptions of them and avoid allowing the true inner self to come out. Messner says, “…heterosexuality and masculinity were not something we ‘were’, but something we were doing.” (2) Heterosexuality is a constructed identity and institution that men engage them in to avoid shame and embarrassment if even being suspected of being gay and to conjoin with the titles of power and privilege. Male athletes have this persona that they have to live up to as being the “macho-man” and heaven forbid if you can be a homosexual athlete and still be just as amazing of a player as a heterosexual athlete. In Masculinity as Homophobia by Michael Kimmel, homophobia is referred to as a fear that other men will “emasculate us, reveal to us and the world that we do not measure up, that we are not a real man.” (3) Especially in the sports world, you don’t want to be the “weak link” and be called a “faggot” or “sissy” so you live up to the normal standards of the athlete.

Gareth Thomas is a hero to the gay community. Thomas commented, "I don't know if my life is going to be easier because I'm out, but if it helps someone else…then it will have been worth it.” (1) I think that it goes to show how strong of an individual Gareth is for continuing to still play rugby and to pave the way for other gay athletes to come out as well. Well done Gareth Thomas, lets hope that if there are any other gay athletes (male or female), you have shown them that they can be unmasked and not have to fret over the ridicule. I don’t really understand why it matters so much to society what an athlete, or anyone for that matter, does behind closed doors. It doesn’t change the fact that Thomas is a superior athlete at rugby. Unless this stereotype is broken, society will never learn to change or accept anything else. I’ve attached the link to an interview on the Ellen DeGeneres show in which I leave you with a powerful message from Thomas himself:

The power and influence that sports people have on the world in general is such an amazing thing and sport can change the world

and being gay in a sport and continuing on with that sport sends

such a positive message to children and adults.

-Gareth Thomas



(1) : "Wikipedia." Gareth Thomas (rugby player). N.p., 09Oct 2011. Web.
(2): Messner, Michael. "Becoming 100% Straight." Gender Through the Prism of Difference. (2011): 200-201. Print.
(3): Kimmel, Michael. "Masculinity as Homophobia." (1994): 147-150. Print.
(4): McRae, Donald. "The Guardian." Gareth Thomas on being gay in sport and switching to rugby league. N.p., 03May2010. Web. .

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  1. These are some great videos!
    First of all, I can’t believe that in the one of the videos it said Gareth Thomas was the first man to come out in any professional sport considering it was in the year 2007. Only 4 years ago! I do not have a source to back me up but I feel like there have been many other athletes who have come out more recently.

    Also, he was extremely lucky to have such great support for announcing he was gay. Many people would not have the same response from family, intimate partners, or sports team. Not that I agree, but would it appropriate to say that Thomas was selfish for taking 7 years of his wife’s life knowing that he was gay all along?

  2. I agree with Lea. I can't believe that he was the first professional rugby player to come out! That was only 2009. I thought this article was extremely interesting because rugby is such a macho sport, I could see why so few rugby players have come out.

    I also think it's inspirational that Thomas came out not just for himself, but to "...help someone else…then it will have been worth it." I hope that he inspires more professional athletes to come out.

  3. I agree with both of you in that it's shocking to me that he was the first pro rugby player to come out, four short years ago! To me, that really speaks volumes about how deeply entrenched hegemonic masculinity is in our society, especially in institutions such as sports. Whether someone is perceived as a good athlete should NOT be influenced by their sexual orientation. I think it's ridiculous that "straight" and "sports" seem to have to go hand in hand simply because of deeply-held societal ideals of so-called "masculinity." Hopefully Thomas' experiences will help other athletes come out of the closet and have more fulfilling lives.

  4. That's pretty much why I wrote my blog on him. I think that we all can learn so much from his experience. I hope that this reaches to people's hearts and opens everyone's eyes as to what is really going on around us(espeically sports that is so dominant in American lives). A person's sexual orientation, preference or whatever you feel to term it should not determine their pathways in society.

  5. This is a perfect example of how homosexuals are the same as heterosexuals. Nobody could tell that he was gay. When his parents and teammates said that they accepted him for who he is, it sets a fantastic example for others as well. One of the big stereotypes I see here is the notion that rugby is a MAN'S sport, and the fact that a GAY man (one who is seen as LESS of a man by a lot of people) is actually one of the greatest rugby players out there is solid proof that people were wrong about being gay meant being less of a man. I think it is safe to say that by the stereotype, Thomas is more of a man than all the people I have met who think that homosexuality is wrong. Kudos to him, and kudos to you for presenting this topic so professionally.

  6. First thing I immediately thought is “where are men like him in the United States?” He is not only an amazing athlete, but also an intelligent man and a great husband even though he was struggling with living a lie. My favorite quote is the one you listed in your blog were he says, “I don’t want to be known as the gay rugby player. I am a rugby player; first and foremost I am a man.” I think this story actually resonates more with Waddell (the gay athlete in Messner’s article) who used sports more as a closet to hide in for a while, rather than a discovery tool to understand his sexuality.

    I do agree that Gareth Thomas is a hero to the gay community and a perfect example to use in this context because of all sports, I’d argue that rugby is one of the “manliest” and most stereotypically “straight sport.” I agree with everyone else when they say they could not believe that he was the first man to come out being gay in a professional sport?! For me, this gives Messner and the idealists in his article such as Connell, Marcuse, and Rich so much credibility. They were right on with their ideas, because Thomas, who is exemplifying the most extreme case, is acting right on to what these idealists claimed. Just as Amy said, this blog seriously does speak to how deeply entrenched hegemonic masculinity is- not just our society, but even more so in sports. My perspective on sexuality within institutions has really changed after reading about Thomas. Before, I thought institutions such as marriage for example were at the top of the list for hardest to break in terms of its heteronormative views. Yet, in some states homosexuals are getting married. On the other hand, in sports, hardly anybody is able to come out.

    Jess did you find, while doing your research, any numbers on how many people have come out in sports after 2007? I’m just curious ☺

  7. Thanks guys for the comments!! Natalie--- I will for sure research how many other athletes have come out recently and get back to ya! I'm very interested to see as well :)

  8. OK... so I've been searching the net and all that I really found was a few ex-athletes that have come out... but I will still keep looking for any current gay athletes that have come out recently :)