In October of 2021, the world of sport came to be united in its support of Josh Cavallo, the A-League midfielder and Adelaide United star who came out as gay and, in doing so, opened the door for other athletes to have such conversations knowing the widespread support available to them should they choose. As the only known current male top-flight professional footballer in the world to come out as gay, Cavallo said in a statement that he was finally ready to “speak about something personal that I’m finally comfortable to talk about in my life,” and acknowledged just how the culture surrounding professional sport has led many male stars to live in silence, existing in a constant tension between their professional dreams and a desire to live authentically.
The impact of Cavallo’s actions can’t be underestimated, with ripple effects being seen across both sport and society at large. Now, Leinster scrum-half Nick McCarthy has come out as gay and is sharing his story in the hope of inspiring others. Having already told his teammates earlier this year, McCarthy said his experience has been “entirely positive” and went on to thank the incredible support he’d received from coaches Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster. Prior to coming out, McCarthy had struggled to reconcile his identity with his sporting pursuits, leaving him to consider quitting professional rugby union due to his sexuality.
The 27-year-old expressed just how much of an influence Josh Cavallo had been on his ability to come out, along with American footballer Carl Nassib and bisexual teammate Jack Dunne. “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,” McCarthy told Leinster’s website. “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.”
McCarthy added: “It’s not uncommon 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.”
Sporting fans and players alike have been quick to express their support and admiration for McCarthy, with Leinster and Ireland captain, Johnny Sexton, saying he was proud of his teammate. “I’ve known Nick since his time in the academy so to hear him talk to us so openly about his struggles has been tough but we are now just delighted for Nick and that he can be himself,” he said.
Speaking about the positive impact McCarthy’s announcement will have on other fans growing up and wondering just how their sexual identity might fit in the world of sport, Sexton added: “We talk about looking after our brothers a lot in here and the last few months has been about that, looking out for Nick. And that will continue. By speaking openly about his sexuality, Nick will be a role model for others and we couldn’t be prouder of him.”
McCarthy praised his teammates for not only accepting him but being so supportive. “Leinster Rugby is built on brotherhood, and it’s important that we can be open and honest with each other. I was obviously pretty nervous about doing so, but I’m really happy that I did it. They were all delighted for me and it was immediately a weight off my shoulders. I felt they understood my situation,” he added. “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.”
He added: “In some ways, nothing has changed, which is great. 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. 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.”