Campbell Johnstone: First All Black to come out as gay praised for 'bravery'

Former rugby player Campbell Johnstone makes his announcement. Credit: TVNZ+

Former New Zealand rugby player Campbell Johnstone has been praised for his "strength" and "bravery" after becoming the first All Black to come out as gay.

The 43-year-old, who played three Test matches for New Zealand in 2005, said he had been “leading a double life”, but hoped his decision will put an end to “the pressure and stigma surrounding the issue”.

Johnstone said he told his family and friends “a long time ago” before coming out publicly on New Zealand’s Steven Sharp current affairs programme.

“Within myself, I was never comfortable with the whole concept and my dream was to be an All Black,” said the former prop, who played for Canterbury and Biarritz, and also spent a brief spell at the Ospreys.

“My view of an All Black was manly, strong, possibly with a wife and kids.”

He continued: “I pushed that side of me down deeper and deeper and I have been to some interesting places with that.

Campbell Johnstone (centre) in 2012 Credit: PA

“It would come to the surface and I may have a bad game and I would look at that side of me and blame that side. But it slowly starts to affect you. It is hard living a double life or living a lie.

“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 for New Zealand sports-wise that gives everyone closure.”

Following Johnstone’s announcement, New Zealand Rugby CEO Mark Robinson said in a statement: “Your strength and visibility will pave the way for others in our game.

“Rugby is a sport that is welcoming to everyone and a place where people should feel safe to be who they are."

New Zealand sports minister and former deputy prime minister Grant Robertson said Johnstone’s announcement was a “big moment” and thanked him for “blazing this trail”.

“Now with the All Blacks another barrier has been broken. I hope it inspires future generations to be open, happy and comfortable. There is still a long way to go, but this feels a very significant step,” he said on Instagram.

World Rugby, the global governing body of Rugby Union, shared Johnstone's announcement on Twitter, adding a love heart emoji in the caption.

Rugby players also wrote messages of support, with current All Black player Aaron Smith praising Johnstone's interview as "unreal".

"Amazing story on @SevenSharp such bravery and mana (meaning prestige or spirit) shown," he tweeted.

Scrum-half Brad Weber wrote: "Legend! Hugely influential moment for so many young people, rugby players especially, who might be questioning their sexuality. Much respect, Campbell."

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