NZ Rugby Star Campbell Johnstone Comes Out as Gay

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday January 30, 2023

All Blacks rugby player Campbell Johnstone
All Blacks rugby player Campbell Johnstone  (Source:TVNZ)

New Zealand rugby player Campbell Johnstone has made sports history: He's the first player for the country's famed All Blacks team to come out as gay.

Johnstone made the announcement on an appearance on New Zealand talk show "Seven Sharp," UK newspaper the Independent reported.

Johnstone spoke about how the widely held image of pro athletes contributed to keeping him trapped in "a double life," saying, "I was never comfortable with the whole concept" of being gay, "and my dream was to be an All Black," the BBC reported.

The 43-year-old said that although he's only now coming out publicly, he had confided in friends and family "a long time ago..."

The athlete went on to add: "My view of an All Black was manly, strong, possibly with a wife and kids."

The team is famed for its logo — a silver fern on a black background — and its tradition of performing a haka, or Maori war chant, before matches. Though Johnstone played for the All Blacks in 2005 before continuing his career with other teams, eventually retiring in 2012, his identification with the team remains strong.

Saying that his years in the closet meant "living a lie," Johnstone expressed the hope that, "If I can be the first All Black that comes out as gay and take away the pressure and stigma surrounding the issue, it can actually help other people."

"Then the public will know that there is one in amongst the All Blacks ... and it could be one of the final pieces in the puzzle sports-wise that gives everyone closure," Johnstone added, according to CNN.

Former teammate and current New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson agreed, sending out a supportive tweet in which he declared that Johnstone's "strength and visibility will pave the way for others in our game."

Added Robinson: "Rugby is a sport that is welcoming to everyone and a place where people should feel safe to be who they are. We know that there are people who have not always been comfortable to be who they are in rugby. We want to be clear, no matter who you love, rugby has your back."

The country's openly gay Sports Minister, Grant Robertson — who has also served as New Zealand's Deputy Prime Minister in the past — also took to social media with a message of support, the Associated Press reported, offering Johnstone thanks for "blazing this trail" and declaring, "Now with the All Blacks another barrier has been broken.

"I hope it inspires future generations to be open, happy and comfortable," Robertson added. "There is still a long way to go, but this feels a very significant step."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.