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23-year-old Stanley, who has represented England a total of five times internationally, is finally speaking openly about his sexuality, and making international headlines in the process. He’s the first English professional rugby union player to come out publicly.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, Stanley said: ‘I was 10 or 11 when I realized I was different to my friends. I didn’t want to accept it, I felt that being different wasn’t right. I had a girlfriend and I was thinking that, like some people say, maybe it is just a phase.’
Sam has also revealed he attempted suicide after fearing his sexuality would end his rugby career. ‘I was standing on a bridge about four or five years ago, overlooking a motorway in Essex… However, looking back, the idea that I would jump was ridiculous but it was as if I was thinking that I could get rid of the pain in one go.You are so worried about what people will think and I thought I couldn’t be a macho rugby player the way I was, and there was nothing else I wanted to do with my life.’
In an interview with BBC Radio, Stanley added that he hopes by coming out publicly he will help others find the confidence to let go of their own “loneliness, anger and hurt” of being closeted. Stanley has been overwhelmed with support from family, friends, and fans.
Saracens, where Stanley was a player between 2010 and 2014, have shown support to their old teammate, tweeting: ‘So #proud of @Stanley_13. Always a member of the #SarriesFamily.’
Sam’s brother Michael Stanley, who plays for Samoa, has also spoken of his pride for his brother, tweeting: ‘So proud of my little brother, not easy in this days society! Love you uce, be proud of who you are #FtheHaters @Stanley_13’
Stanley has come out less than a month after rugby league player Keegan Hirst, who had also struggled with being gay but has since received a lot of support. The first rugby union player to come out as gay was former Wales captain Gareth Thomas, who came out in 2009. “It is going to be an issue until more people and athletes come out, until it is not an issue at all. It might take years but hopefully, lots of people will find the courage,” says Sam.