It took a lot time to finally make the decision, but American rugby player Devin Ibanez has come out in a series of moving social media posts showing the rugged, long-haired athlete with his partner.
"I am openly gay," Ibanez wrote to Facebook and Instagram. "This is something that is not a secret to those close to me and even several people not close to me. But I always felt a need to keep it separate from my rugby career."
The self-described "rugby maniac" wanted to be more open and honest about his sexuality, but feared doing so might become a distraction or jeopardize relationships within the team and sport.
"I always felt a need to keep it separate from my rugby career," he wrote. "I always came up with a reason why being more vocal would be a distraction, detrimental, or unnecessary."
He promised himself the day he signed a professional contract, he would become the first publicly out Major League Rugby player and would use that platform to raise awareness for issues confronting the LGBTQ+ community -- in 2009 Gareth Thomas became the first out gay professional rugby union player and similarly said he had battled with the notion of becoming a "gay rugby player." When Ibanez signed a contract with the New England Free Jacks in 2019, he "moved the goalposts even further" and told himself he needed to "secure a starting spot and long-term role in the organization" before he could come out, and he stayed quiet.
With the dawn of a new year, though, Ibanez decided he had waited and rationalized long enough. Living happily with his English medical student boyfriend, Fergus Wade, the time seemed right. Ibanez created a new Instagram profile (@thegayrugger), embracing what his sexuality and encouraging others to do the same.
By announcing that he was "the only openly gay rugby player to earn a contract with an [Major League Rugby] side," Ibanez hopes to meet other high level LGBTQ+ rugby players and "inspire the next generation of proud LGBTQ rugby players" with his announcement.
"So I will proudly call myself 'that gay rugger"' in hopes that one day it won't sound strange in men's rugby," he wrote. But it's not just about what it sounds like for the athlete, but changing the environment.
"Rugby has changed my life and inspired me to do things I never would have considered possible," he wrote. "But I have also found high level men's rugby to still be far from a welcoming place for gay rugby players. I want to help change that because this sport has something to offer us all in the same way that we all have something we can offer to the sport."
He joins other out rugby athletes like Levi Davis who played at the club level, Thomas, as well as Dan Palmer. Palmer played rugby in Australia and France, once competing for Australia's national team.