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Thomas, Gareth (b. 1974)  
 
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Thomas stayed with the Bridgend club until 1997, when he went to Cardiff, where he played for four years before returning to the team in his own home region.

Thomas was constantly fearful that his sexual orientation would become known, spelling an end to his career in sports.

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"I knew I would never be accepted as a gay man and still achieve what I wanted to achieve in the game," he told Weathers, adding, "I became a master of disguise and could play the straight man down to a tee, sometimes over-compensating by getting into fights or being overly aggressive because I didn't want the real me to be found out. . . . But when you withdraw into yourself, you start to feel lonely, upset, ashamed. You create this inner world which is dark."

Despite the tough-guy image that Thomas projected, there were occasional rumors and speculation about his sexuality among players and fans, and sometimes a cat-call during a match, but, backed by his teammates, Thomas derided them.

Thomas had a long-term but on-and-off relationship with a girlfriend, Jemma, whom he described to Weathers as "the nicest, most caring, understanding, prettiest girl I ever met." Nevertheless, he continued to seek occasional sexual encounters with men even though doing so left him with feelings of guilt and self-loathing.

"It was such a confusing time because I had amazingly strong feelings for her, yet I knew I had taken who I was and put it into a little ball and pushed it into a corner," he stated.

Thomas proposed in 2000, and the couple wed in 2002. Thomas truly hoped for a long and stable marriage despite his recognition—if not acceptance—of his homosexuality.

"I felt confident I could keep this other part of me locked away indefinitely. I still felt attracted to other men, but I squashed those feelings. I decided I could accept the attraction, provided I never did anything about it," he said.

He could not keep that resolution, however, and cheating on his wife only added to his burden of confusion and guilt.

In 2003 the Welsh Rugby Union reorganized, and Thomas became a member of the Celtic Warriors, a team created by merging the Bridgend and Pontypridd clubs. After only a year, however, the Warriors lost the financial support of their backer, and the club went out of existence. Thomas decried the development and its potential impact on the future of Welsh rugby, noting to Paul Newman of The Independent that "the majority of the really big players for Wales have come from [the Bridgend area]."

Following the collapse of the Warriors organization, Thomas was recruited by and signed with European powerhouse Toulouse.

But Wales still needed Thomas—at least in the opinion of Coach Scott Johnson. Thomas's years of heavy drinking had made some people skeptical of choosing him for the squad, but Johnson recommended him for the final spot on the Wales national team roster, and, in an even more controversial move, Thomas was named captain by Head Coach Mike Ruddock.

He responded with outstanding play in 2004, and the following year, again as captain, led Wales to victories over all five other competitors in the Six Nations Championship. In addition, his Toulouse team won the rugby championship of Europe, the Heineken Cup. Fans elected him the BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year.

During a game with Toulouse in January 2006, Thomas suffered a concussion—far from the first during his playing career. As usual, he had a test, received medical clearance, and continued to play.

As soon as Thomas landed back in Wales a few weeks later, he went directly to a BBC Wales studio to appear on an interview show. Rugby-player-turned-sports-journalist Eddie Butler immediately accused him of leading a players' revolt against Head Coach Ruddock, who had recently resigned.

Both men's tempers flared as Thomas's vehement denials and challenges only drew repeated accusations from Butler that Thomas had undermined Ruddock, the man who had appointed him to the captaincy, allegedly in hopes that Coach Johnson might advance to the post.

Still seething from the ugly incident, Thomas went home to watch the recorded show with his family. Just as the broadcast began, however, he suffered a seizure and collapsed. Doctors determined that he had had a mini-stroke brought on by stress so severe that it had elevated his blood pressure enough to collapse an artery to his brain, so recently traumatized by the concussion.

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