clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Gay rugby player in Texas shares his Pride video to inspire others to love themselves

Knute O’Donnell discovered a simple message in his coming out journey: Love yourself. It’s what spurred him to do a Pride video.

Knute O’Donnell in action for the Austin Blacks rugby team.
Knute O’Donnell in action for the Austin Blacks rugby team.
Norma Salinas

Pride means loving yourself.

It’s so easy in this world to be hard on yourself without understanding how far you’ve come. That pride in realizing who you are — you look at yourself and say, “I am that guy, I am that girl and I’ve gone through a lot to get here.”

If you don’t give yourself a shot to like yourself, it’s going to be a really hard life. Try to work on liking yourself before loving yourself.

I say these words in a 16-minute video I did for FLOSports for Pride month, talking about my journey as a rugby player and gay man. The positive reception I have received from people seeing the video shows me I made the right decision is agreeing to do it, though I was initially hesitant.

I was asked by a friend who used to work for FLOSports to help with their direction for the Pride project. I spoke with Chez Sievers, the director for the project, and she asked me about some potential leads in terms of rugby players who were out. I told her I knew of a couple but was not going to out them. She then asked me to talk about my story and liked it enough to ask me if I was willing to go on camera and share it. Absolutely not, I said.

I was afraid of who would see my story and also of deciding to be publicly out. I have been out for almost four years, but taking it to the next level gave me pause. After thinking it over, I told her I would share my story if the project were given the green light. She convinced me that the story could help people in similar situations, and I agreed. I also knew that I would regret not taking this chance to show how relatable a story like mine is to the world.

The film was an exciting and exhausting experience. Not knowing what my main message was going to be or how my story would be perceived was haunting me. But once I figured out what I wanted to say and how I wanted to present it, the filming went smooth.

You forget how much trauma you bury until you go to therapy, and certain interview questions in the video reignited those traumas. It was important to go back through these events no matter how difficult. It reminded me how far I have come and ultimately made me feel like a burden was lifted.

When I first came out four years ago, it was not in a social media post. I made sure to tell my close friends individually so we could discuss it as much as we needed to. Everyone could tell I had developed bad habits and couldn’t understand why.

Knute O’Donnell running with the ball as his teammates cheer him on.
Knute O’Donnell running with the ball as his teammates cheer him on.
Andrew Leal

When I told my rugby teammates in Texas the news, they immediately embraced me, and it made all my relationships stronger. All my teammates are straight, and we play a very macho sport in a top division of rugby here in the U.S., so the fear of not being accepted or ridiculed was constantly present.

That fear quickly went away. After telling them the news they wanted to get together a group for us to go to Austin Pride for the first time in 2018 (we went again in 2019). It was incredible. It was my first Pride as well and we experienced so much love and affection from walking in the parade. I cannot express into words that what they did for me that day by simply “showing up” was nothing short of life saving.

In the video, I was thrilled to see my Austin Blacks teammates embrace me and their words mean so much.

“‘Hey man I want to tell you something about me’ ... He told me he was gay. I said, ‘Hey man, give me a hug. That’s awesome. That’s great. Everyone here supports you 100 percent, no matter what.’” (Ty Terrazone former team captain)

“To see Knute happy in a relationship, it’s just awesome. To see the love they have for one another, the fun they have, the energy they bring.” (Derek Watson, Austin Blacks teammate)

“He’s Mr. Reliable. If you need something done in a pinch, he’s the go-to guy. Those are the qualities in him that are unchanging and that’s why I love him.” (Dylan Goulding, teammate)

Along the way, I have been able to be in a great relationship with my boyfriend, John. He has the most infectious laugh and is so lovable. He has been a big help in my coming out journey because he has also been through it. I find that asking others what they have been through when they were my age or at different stages of their life has been extremely helpful.

John is originally from Texas and I’m originally from Indiana — it’s easy to see that we did not have the easiest places to live to be able to just be ourselves. His journey is much different from mine, yet similar in many ways. Luckily for us, we have ourselves, great friends and parents and family who love us for who we are.

Knute O’Donnell is a rugby veteran.
Knute O’Donnell has gotten nothing but positive feedback to his coming out video.
Norma Salinas

The rugby community has flooded my inbox with kind messages and open hearts after the video aired, and many now have a different perspective on me and countless others who play this macho, grueling and, amazing sport. It has also helped friends of mine start the discussion on their taking steps to work on their mental health, anxiety and depression, which is fantastic to see.

I think it’s very easy to worry what everyone else is going to think about you that you lose sight of loving and taking care of yourself. I am excited to see what the rest of this life has to offer. Happy Pride to everyone and remember to go at your own pace throughout your journey. We’ll be here waiting for you!

Knute O’Donnell is a rugby veteran in Austin having played scrum-half for both Austin’s Major League Rugby franchise, and his current club, the Austin Blacks Rugby Club. He can be reached via email (knute.odonnell@gmail.com), Twitter @Knuteymagazine, Instagram (@Knuteymagazineday) or LinkedIn (@Knute O’Donnell).

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim (kandreeky@gmail.com)

Check out our archive of coming out stories.

If you’re an LGBTQ person in sports looking to connect with others in the community, head over to GO! Space to meet and interact with other LGBTQ athletes, or to Equality Coaching Alliance to find other coaches, administrators and other non-athletes in sports.

Homophobia

Norwegian women’s soccer stands with LGBTQ community after attack at gay bar

Soccer

English soccer player Demi Stokes comes out using Instagram baby reveal

athletes-coming out

Top Phoenix Suns basketball exec Ryan Resch comes out as gay