FORMER rugby league star Ian Roberts has opened up about the difficult journey he had coming out as gay to his parents and the world.
The British-born Aussie, 57, was the highest-paid player in the sport back in the 1990s.
He featured for three clubs Down Under in the South Sydney Rabbitohs, Manly Sea Eagles and North Qld Cowboys.
Roberts also experienced one season playing in England for Wigan.
The prop and second row star was known for his tough tackling, something which he hit the headlines for on one occasion in particular.
That came when he was involved in a head clash with Jason Smith after charging at him during a match.
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It resulted in a broken jaw for Smith who was carried off the field on a stretcher.
But it was off the pitch where Roberts endured the toughest challenge of his life.
Born into what he describes as a household with "a lot of racism, and misogynistic and homophobic language", he never felt comfortable telling his parents about his sexuality.
And he cites the barrage of abuse footballer Justin Fashanu received when he came out as another reason why he kept it a secret.
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But one day during his career he was asked outright by his parents whether he was gay or not.
It came after his mother heard two of her work colleagues spreading a false rumour that Roberts had been caught by police having sex in public with another man.
Recalling the discussion with his parents, he told the BBC: "My dad retold the story and said 'we just need to hear you say you are not gay, and that is good enough for us'."
Roberts then proceeded to tell his parents that he was.
He continued: "My dad's first words were: 'But you play footy, you play for Australia.' That was where his head went."
The revelation led to an 18-month period of no communication between Roberts and his parents.
He ended up coming out publicly, making him the first top-level rugby league star to do so – and the only one to this day.
Describing the response from his team-mates at the Manly Sea Eagles – who already knew he was gay – he said: "It was kind of a bonding moment for us. They were my tribe and my people, and it almost felt at times like they were trying to protect me.
"My experience was so different to Justin's [Fashanu] – I was embraced.
"I had this persona of being an aggressive player, a guy who could handle myself on the pitch – and I could. My coming out challenged people's preconceptions of gay men.
"There were elements of pushback – of course there were – but if I knew what I knew now I would have come into top-level rugby league as a gay man."
Roberts' dad, Ray, passed away in 2014 but not before he came to terms with his son being gay.
Roberts added: "My dad's journey was quite remarkable. By the end he was a champion, such an ally.
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"An interviewer once told him that he must be very proud of me.
"Dad said 'I am equally proud of all my children, but I will say that I am so grateful that one of my sons was gay because I finally saw the world as it really was'."
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