Leinster scrum-half Nick McCarthy has admitted he contemplated retiring from rugby instead of coming out as gay.
Having come out to his team-mates back in January, McCarthy has now spoken publicly about his sexuality for the first time.
The 27-year-old struggled with being gay for some time, but after breaking his silence, McCarthy has found comfort in the welcoming reaction of his friends, family and everyone within Leinster.
McCarthy returned to Leinster last summer following two years with Munster, and the former Ireland U-20 international is hoping that more fellow players can follow his lead.
Leinster lock Jack Dunne, who is set to join Exeter, has previously spoken about his bisexuality, with McCarthy having taken courage from his team-mate.
McCarthy spoke with Leinsterrugby.ie about his decision to come out and his reasons for doing so:
Marcus Ó Buachalla (Leinster communications manager): Nick, thanks for your time this morning.
First of all, how are you?
Nick McCarthy: I’m very good, thank you.
MÓB: It’s been an interesting few months for you to say the least.
NMcC: It has. I came out to my teammates in January and I was obviously pretty nervous about doing so, but I’m really happy that I did it.
I struggled with coming out for a while and it was starting to impact on me and my happiness so it was the right decision.
MÓB: How bad did that struggle get?
NMcC: It affected me so much that I agonised over my future and contemplated walking away from rugby altogether because I just didn’t think I could come out while playing rugby.
But, I spoke to Leo (Cullen) and Stuart (Lancaster) last November and the support that I got from them straight away was unbelievable. They helped and guided me over the months that followed so that I felt more comfortable to come out to the group.
MÓB: Why did you feel that you couldn’t come out while playing rugby?
NMcC: I suppose because it’s not really ‘a thing’. It’s not common for a male athlete to come out in sport, never mind professional rugby, and it’s probably something that I didn’t want to believe or accept myself either.
I needed to accept being gay myself before I could address it with others.
I have great friends in rugby but I didn’t know how they would take it.
My experience, since coming out though has been entirely positive. I have realised that anyone who cares about you, just wants you to be happy.
MÓB: When did you start having those conversations with family and friends?
NMcC: Around this time last year I started talking to my close friends, and they were very supportive.
Those conversations continued as I became more comfortable and accepting of myself.
In many other professions you may not feel the need to discuss your sexuality. But I felt I wasn’t being true to myself.
Leinster Rugby is built on ‘brotherhood’ and it’s important that we can be open and honest with each other. We spend so much time together, and I now feel very comfortable in this environment being myself.
MÓB: What was their reaction?
NMcC: Everyone was happy that I could tell them and they could be there for me. Some felt sorry that I couldn’t discuss it sooner but again, I had to get to that point myself.
My friends have been unbelievable in helping me to accept that I am gay and to help me embrace that part of my life now.
I’m lucky to have grown up in a loving environment. My parents, my sister, grandparents and wider family, are totally accepting of me and I’m very thankful for their support.
MÓB: Take us back to the Monday morning please, Nick, when you addressed the full squad ahead of the scheduled team meeting?
NMcC: I only made a quick announcement. But I just remember the room erupting! They were all delighted for me and it was immediately a weight off my shoulders.
I felt they understood my situation. It’s hard to perform at your best when you are carrying something, anything, and that’s the same for all the lads. For me it was my sexuality, for others it could be stuff at home, or studies or whatever.
MÓB: Some people might say we are in 2022 and the times have changed? People don’t need to come out and talk publicly like you are doing today?
NMcC: I’m a private person so I was unsure about coming out publicly.
But looking at Carl Nassib (American Football player) or Josh Cavallo (Australian soccer player) coming out and Jack Dunne here in Leinster and how he spoke publicly last year about his bisexuality, has helped me a lot. I’ve had good conversations with each of them and they’ve been hugely encouraging.
In turn, I feel if I can now help others come out in professional sport or in their everyday lives and make being gay more normal and not a thing to be worried about, then that is a positive.
MÓB: How have you coped with the mental strain of the last year?
NMcC: I’m feeling happier in myself. I have great support here at Leinster, and Rugby Players’ Ireland and Emma Burrows (Leinster Personal Development Manager).
Just being able to be myself is a relief!
MÓB: You mentioned the unknown earlier and in particular, how would people react. So how did they react or how have things been with friends and teammates?
NMcC: In some ways, nothing has changed, which is great! It really hasn’t been a big thing for them, but it was for me at the time.
What has changed is we can be more open and honest about how we’re feeling, and I think our relationships have gotten stronger.
MÓB: What does the future look like?
NMcC: I’m so much happier than I was a few months ago and I’m optimistic for the future.
If one other person, one other kid, keeps playing their sport because they see a Leinster Rugby player has come out and is accepted, that would be a great outcome.
MÓB: Finally, if there is somebody out there struggling, what would you say to them?
NMcC: I’d love people to see, from my experience, that coming out has been really positive, and the biggest hurdle may be in your own head.
Surround yourself with good people, because anyone that cares for you, wants the best for you.
Your sexuality is just a part of who you are, and life is so much better when you can be yourself.
MÓB: Nick, thank you so much for your time this morning, and for sharing your story. Enjoy the summer.
NMcC: Thank you.