Australia’s First Openly Gay Rugby Player Got The League To Support Marriage Equality

Ian Roberts / via Richard Dobson

Ian Roberts is a gay icon in his own right.

The UK born athlete spent two decades being a professional rugby player for multiple teams like the South Sydney Rabbitohs or the North Queensland Cowboys.

Then, in 1995, during the height of his career, Roberts came out as gay. This made him not only the first rugby player to come out, but also the first prominent athlete in Australia to do it too.

But that wasn’t all for Ian Roberts. After eventually retiring from the sport, Roberts went to become a model and actor with a moderate level of success. He cameoed in movies like Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, a lead role in the film Saltwater, and roles in tv series like Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities.

But, perhaps the most notable thing he’s done since his coming out in 1995 is to use all of that capital he’s built up for some good use.

You see, Roberts was affected by the suicide of a 13-year-old boy named Tyrone Unsworth.

“The poor kid was bullied at school for being gay,” Roberts told the Daily Telegraph, “That’s what triggered me into doing this. His passing will not be in vain.”

Roberts decided to take action to create a better future. To do that, he wrote an email to Todd Greenberg, the chief of Australia’s National Rugby League.

Tyrone Unsworth / via The Daily Telegraph

In that note, which can be read in full down below, he reached out to Greenberg in hopes that he could convince the Rugby League to support the Same-Sex Marriage vote.

And it turns out, his hopes became a reality.

“I have tears in my eye mate. I’ve never felt so proud about our game. This will save lives,” Roberts said, “This is a moment in time that will be remembered forever.”

And his hopes are that by having the NRL’s support, more people will be willing to vote yes and stope discriminating against LGBTQ people.

“Rugby league has been so strong in breaking down barriers and raising awareness about many issues,” Roberts professed, “Whether it’s to do with indigenous Australians or domestic violence against women.

“It’s about saving lives because that’s the power our game has.”

In addition, Greenberg agreed and said that voting yes and supporting Same-Sex Marriage goes along perfectly with what the league believes in.

“There is a place for everyone in our game,” Greenberg said.

“And we need to treat everyone equally both on and off the field and that’s why we will publicly support the same-sex marriage proposal.”


Hi Todd

It’s Ian Roberts here. I hope this finds you and your family well.

I appreciate it’s a busy time for you and the staff at the NRL with the finals about to start but the exposure the game is receiving right now is why I am contacting you. It’s one that’s very personal to me but, more importantly, one that could save lives.

Hopefully, you’re aware of the High Court challenge that begins today to the same-sex marriage postal plebiscite. I’m in the process of drafting a letter to all the major sporting bodies asking them to support same-sex marriage and to make that support public. I’m planning on sending out those requests to the other major sporting bodies in the coming weeks.

But I would love the NRL to take the lead and be the first. Not for the sake of being first but for the simple reason is that it’s the right thing to do.

As you know, I came out publicly 25 years ago. The ARL failed to make the most of that moment. They could have been on the front foot, leading the way for all sporting bodies, and not just sporting bodies but for all major corporations. The ARL chose to ignore that opportunity because it was an awkward conversation to be having back in 1994.

It’s not awkward any longer — it is a necessary one. I don’t want the game I love to again miss this moment in history. This is about being brave. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about saving lives because that’s the power our game has. It is a game for everyone.

An announcement from you, on behalf of rugby league, before the High Court decision is handed down would send a strong message. The postal vote is due to start on September 12 so there isn’t much time.

Rugby league has been so strong in breaking down barriers and raising awareness about many issues, whether it’s to do with indigenous Australians or domestic violence against women.

It can be the leader again. It’s one thing to have a float in the Mardi Gras parade but this is different. So I’m appealing to you to take control and show the NRL it legitimately takes pride in supporting same-sex marriage. As I said, that it’s a game for everyone.

I am hopeful of hearing from you soon. I can be contacted on XXXXXXXXXXX at any stage to discuss.

Regards, Todd

Ian Roberts

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