Former professional rugby star Campbell Johnstone recently came out, making him the first player ever to come out from New Zealand’s national rugby union team, known as the All Blacks because of their black uniforms.
Johnstone played as number 1056, one of the team’s “prop” positions in 2005. He publicly came out in a recent TV interview with Hilary Barry on the national current affair show Seven Sharp.
Although he told Barry that he had come out to his friends and family “a long time ago,” he said he wanted to come out publicly now to encourage other closeted individuals.
“If I can be the first All Black that comes out as gay and take away the pressure and stigma surrounding the issue it can actually help other people,” Johnstone said.
He said that it was “hard living a double life” while on the team, but he “was never really comfortable with the concept” that he could be a strong rugby player and also a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
“My view of an All Black was manly, strong, possibly with a wife and kids,” he said. “I pushed that side of me down deeper and deeper…. I may have had a bad game and blamed that side of me, you know, and it slowly starts to affect you.”
Johnstone said he hopes that coming out will also serve as “one of the final pieces in the puzzle sports-wise that gives everyone closure” when it comes to whether queer athletes can participate in professional sports.
He advised other closeted athletes that “There’s no rule or law about coming out. You don’t have to come out. If you feel it’s not right for you then don’t.”
“The idea of an ideal rugby player is of an honest, strong person, and if you can make yourself stronger by relieving anxiety and stress then you will fit that mold,” he added.
After leaving the All Blacks, Johnstone also played pro-rugby for the New Zealand team the Canterbury Crusaders, the French team Biarritz Olympique, and the Welsh regional team the Ospreys.
Props, the position Johnstone played, are often front-line attackers and defenders who support the main ball-handler, called the “hooker,” while trying to capture the ball in the scrum, the tight pack of opposing rugby players trying to get the ball.
Johnstone is just the most recent pro-rugby player to come out. In 2015, Keegan Hirst made history as the UK’s first openly gay professional rugby player. In October 2020, Dan Palmer became the first professional player in Australian rugby to come out as gay. In January 2021, pro rugby star Devin Ibañez came forward as the first openly gay professional rugby player in the United States. Irish rugby player Nick McCarthy came out as gay in October 2022