Rugby player Keegan Hirst came out as gay, becoming Britain’s first active Rugby League player to do so.

Keegan Hirst Comes Out

Hirst, 27, came out last weekend in a lengthy interview in which he revealed his years of repressing his sexuality, and his decision not long ago to be open about his sexuality. The Batley Bulldogs star first realized he could be gay in his early teens, but couldn’t wrap his head around it. Years later, after having married and welcomed two children, Hirst is letting his truth be known.

“At first I couldn’t even say ‘I’m gay’ in my head, let alone out loud. Now I feel like I’m letting out a long breath that I’ve held in for a long time.” Hirst told the U.K. Mirror. “I had a wife and kids. I’ve been a builder, doorman, worked in factories – I play rugby. I tick every macho box. How could I be gay?”

It was only a few months ago that Hirst started to seriously consider living openly as a gay man. The decision came after realizing that his wife was blaming herself for their marriage falling apart.

“I finally told my wife I was gay a few weeks ago. She blamed herself when we ­separated but I knew she’d done nothing wrong. I couldn’t bear it any more, the guilt of it all, of her not knowing why I left. It was eating me up,” Hirst said. “I couldn’t get the words out, I felt like I was going to be sick. But I managed to say it. She didn’t say anything at first. I explained why and how I felt, it was very emotional. We were both in tears. She didn’t ask a lot of questions, but she was supportive.”

Hirst and his wife have yet to tell their children that he is gay, though they know that their parents are no longer together. Their split came after Hirst would stay out drinking all hours of the night, blacking out and not remembering what he did or who he was with. Despite his late nights, Hirst maintains that he was never unfaithful to his wife, with whom he says he was happy and for whom he wishes happiness with someone new.

“I feel bad for what I’ve put her through, but hopefully it’s a case of better late than never,” said Keegan. “She’s got the chance now to get on with her life, to find someone new to be happy with. She deserves that.”

Keegan admits that there were times that he thought about committing suicide, but that he never got close to going through with it. He credits the love of his family and friends for keeping his will to live alive.

“I’m comfortable in my own skin, probably for the first time ever. I’m not withholding anything and there’s not that sense of dread,” Hirst said. “I thought I’d be disowned by friends and family but I haven’t been. People keep saying I’m brave – I don’t feel brave. I’m just talking about me.”

Hirst hopes that by coming out he can inspire players like him that fear living openly and honestly as gay athletes to be comfortable with themselves. Since coming out, the rugby player has received an outpouring of support for which Hirst has expressed his thanks.

Read more about: