"I'm a professional rugby player in the UK and also gay. I'm not out and struggle a lot with it. The lies and deceit and everything that goes with it. Avoiding certain situations etc.... It's breaking me :("
That's how Sam Stanley started his first email to me June 17, 2014. "It's breaking me," he wrote. Over the last 14 months we have talked repeatedly, me always the optimist, encouraging him to just tell the next person and the dominoes would fall.
Today he has broken free, coming out publicly in a feature story in the Times of London (reading the full story requires a subscription).
At only 23, Stanley has already played with several professional rugby teams in England. Most notably he was with Saracens F.C. from 2010-12; The club won the Premiership championship (the highest level of English professional rugby) in his first season with the team. He eventually made his way to Sevens, where he played for England in Several matches and competed in four World Series events in 2014.
In June, after coming out within the rugby circles, he was signed by the Ealing Trailfinders Rugby Club, the National League 1 champions last season. Ealing moves up to RFU Championship this season, the second tier of professional rugby in England.
Stanley is the nephew of former All Blacks player Joe Stanley.
The biggest road block for Stanley wasn't necessarily the fear of coming out (though there was plenty of that), but rather how to do it. How do you actually tell someone - or the public - that you're gay?
"It's awesome to see so many athletes being true to themselves now," he wrote to me earlier this year. "The thing for me was never that I wasn't ready it was more how to do it. I was going to put it on Twitter but my other half convinced me not to. I'm happy with how it's all gone."
While he had seen Robbie Rogers take the leap on social media, coming out to the world all at the same time, that wasn't going to work for him. Slowly he started telling those around him. It was more than six months ago that he revealed to the people in his sport that he's gay, doing it piece-by-piece.
"The reaction from my current and past team mates and coaches has been great so far," Stanley wrote this past February. "I've wanted to do this for such a long time but didn't really know how to and telling people one by one would have been way too stressful. ... I've not been happier and now this huge burden has gone I can move forward and finally be myself. No more lying. Feel liberated!!!"
It's the same story we've heard over and over again in every sport at every level from high school to the pros:
Gay athlete fears coming out, convinced it will be the end of his career. Said athlete overcomes the fear and tells teammates and coaches. They embrace him and everyone lives happily ever after.
Robbie Rogers. Gareth Thomas. Seimone Augustus. Conner Mertens. Michael Martin. Brittney Griner. David Denson. Megan Rapinoe. It's all been virtually the same story of fear and reaction.
Now, Sam Stanley joins the club.
Stanley was in part inspired by the coming out of Keegan Hirst two weeks ago. While he had been ready to publicly share his story for the last few months, Stanley dipped his toe in the water with this tweet, no small feat for a man still incredibly nervous about revealing his sexual orientation to the world:
Congratulations to Sam Stanley, who like others before him has found the courage to act in the face of fear.