Gareth Thomas, the professional rugby player from Wales who came out as gay to great fanfare in 2009, was the victim of a hate crime Friday in his hometown of Cardiff when he was assaulted by a 16-year-old.
Thomas, 44 and retired since 2011, posted a message about the attack on Twitter where he is seen sporting bruises and cuts on his face.
I decided to make what I hope will be a positive video. Last night I was a victim in my home city of a hate crime for my sexuality. What do I want it to be positive?
Because I want to say thank you to the police who are involved, who were very helpful and allowed me to do restorative justice to the people who did this because I thought they could learn more that way than any other way. And also to the people of Cardiff who supported me and helped me because there’s a lot of people out there who want to hurt us. But, unfortunately for them, there are a lot more that want to help us heal. So this, I hope, will be a positive message.
Instead of pressing criminal charges, Thomas asked to use restorative justice with his attacker, a system that “that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.”
The Cardiff police issued this statement on the incident:
“We are aware that a video has been posted on social media by former rugby international Gareth Thomas in relation to a hate crime which happened on The Hayes in Cardiff city center on Friday November 16.
“We can confirm a local 16-year-old boy was dealt with by way of restorative justice following the incident at around 9 p.m.
“Restorative justice was at the request of Mr Thomas and accepted by the teenager who admitted assault and was apologetic for his actions.
“Restorative justice is about putting victim needs at the center of the criminal justice system, finding positive solutions to crime and encouraging young people to be accountable for the consequences of their actions.”
It is admirable of Thomas and within his character to try and use the attack as a way to start rehabilitating his attacker. It’s something that also empowers the person assaulted by forcing his attacker to confront his actions.
After the Twitter posting, Thomas was flooded with messages of support from fans. players and officials in rugby. One was Nigel Owens, an openly gay rugby referee, who said: “So sad and sorry to hear this Gar. Totally unacceptably and cowardly behavior. Well done for the way you have dealt with it too. Stand tall and proud my friend we are all totally supportive of you and stand with you against these yobs.”
Thomas also received support from International Gay Rugby, whose chair Ben Owen said in a statement:
“To us Gareth is a hero, one of the few brave enough in men’s rugby to stand up and be open about who he is.
But it shouldn’t be that way, it shouldn’t take bravery to be who you are or to go out for a few pints to celebrate your team winning.
Hate crimes have no place in 21st century Britain and have no place in our sport, on or off the pitch.
Luckily the actions of these sick few are not representative of the many in the rugby community.
International Gay Rugby will continue to work at a grassroots level, with national unions and with World Rugby to make sure rugby remains a sport for all — a sport that says no the intolerance and bigotry that was seen in Cardiff.”
Thomas was a major star in his playing days, and his coming out received huge media attention, with including a profile in Sports Illustrated and HBO’s “Real Sports.” There was even a film biopic in the works with Mickey Rourke, but nothing ever came of it.