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Roberts, Ian (b. 1965)  
 
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Australian rugby superstar Ian Roberts was renowned for his amazing combination of hard-hitting physical play and remarkable agility and finesse. At the height of his athletic career he made the courageous decision to come out as a gay man. The handsome former footballer has embarked on a second career in acting.

A native of Chelsea, England, born July 31, 1965, Ian Roberts spent only a few months in his homeland before his family moved to the town of Maroubra in Australia.

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His early memories include sneaking into his sister's bedroom at age seven and kissing the photo of Les McKeown in the Bay City Rollers poster pinned to the wall over her bed.

Roberts first fell in love with another boy when he was twelve. "It felt pretty intense even though, at the time, I didn't properly understand why," he stated.

The boys spoke of their feelings for each other during sleep-over visits. "It felt so powerful, the whole experience," Roberts recalled. "Knowing for sure what I was didn't bother me because it felt so right and natural, the love we had and just the way we bonded. It was hard for us, though."

He was fearful that his parents would realize his sexual orientation and also that he would be branded a "pooftah" at school. To compensate for his homosexuality and his epilepsy, Roberts became an athlete and excelled at sports. Ironically, he noted, his high school coach always made him an example of a hard-playing, manly sportsman even while he was having romantic affairs with other athletes on school teams.

Roberts's prowess at rugby led to a professional career, and he soon established himself as a superstar in the sport. He started in 1986 with South Sydney. In 1990 he joined the Manly team.

Roberts played prop, a member of the front line whose job is to stop opposing players. Backs are more often the glamour players and goal-scorers, but Roberts won respect for his vigorous work on defense. A six-foot-four-inch mountain of strength, agility, and determination, Roberts was a force to be reckoned with. He was praised for his "heart"--the willingness to put everything into the game, to hurl himself over and over against opponents and crush them, to risk his own welfare for the good of the team. Roberts consistently demonstrated his heart, combining power and finesse in exceptionally skillful play.

At the same time, Roberts was following his heart to Oxford Street, Sydney's gay center. He had been frequenting mixed clubs there since he was in his late teens. The mixed nature of the clubs allowed the still-closeted Roberts to socialize with other gay men but to appear part of the trendy mainstream. He even bought a delicatessen on Oxford Street and served there during his playing career.

Roberts publicly came out as a gay man in 1995 after posing nude for the first issue of Blue, a gay magazine.

He stated that the hardest part of coming out was telling his parents. This occurred when they summoned him home after hearing rumors that he was gay and asked him to deny it. When he did not, they took the news very badly at first but eventually came to be supportive.

Roberts called revealing his sexual orientation to his parents "the hugest weight I've ever had lifted off in my life." After that, he was able to drop the pretenses that he had adopted to conform to the image of a macho athlete. Until then he "would always have a girl on [his] arm" at league functions and even had sexual encounters with women although, he said, he had "never, never been sexually attracted to a female."

Despite his public charade, he called his homosexuality "one of the worst-kept secrets" in the league and said that his fellow athletes were generally unsurprised and supportive in the wake of his announcement.

Public reaction was also largely positive. Roberts had to endure derogatory taunting from some people attending his games, but he reported that strangers came up to him and congratulated him on his honesty in coming out.

Although the decision to make a public statement brought Roberts peace, it was not an easy one. Agents warned him that he could lose endorsements, be unable to continue his charity work with children, and indeed perhaps see his entire career ruined. These dire events did not occur, probably in part because of his well-established reputation as one of the most powerful, hard-working, and respected players in the game and a favorite with fans.

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