Rugby league’s first openly gay player has revealed feelings of torment and guilt he still carries more than 20 years after coming out.
Former Test and NSW State of Origin hardman Ian Roberts, now an actor, is universally regarded as a pioneer and hero among the gay community.
But, at 50, he’s still ashamed for not doing more to save the life of a young friend, an HIV carrier and pedophile victim.
As he pursues a career in Hollywood, after also serving on the NRL judiciary while illiterate, Roberts still hurts for “not stepping up” and helping the police before a teenage lodger in his home was murdered in the 1990s.
In the months before the 15-year-old was murdered, police knocked on Roberts’ door hoping the teenager would provide evidence against his alleged pedophile attacker.
Roberts says his first selfish thoughts at the time were of how the case – revealing his sexuality – would “destroy” his career.
“This is what I live with now,” Roberts told Peter Sterling in an emotional interview on Fox Sports.
“And I don’t ask for anyone’s sympathy or (have) regrets because I’m totally comfortable with what happened now. I can totally get my head around it.
“But for me to go to that point and think about my career when that boy ended up being murdered, left dead in a ditch, it kills, it crushes me.”
Roberts says his coming out in 1994 while still playing – which he described as the “worst-kept secret in rugby league” – was a huge relief personally and for his family.
Beforehand, he said his mother and father had stopped going to games because of the abuse their son copped from the crowd.
“My parents never wanted me to come out either but I think it was to their relief too and they understood then why I had to come out,” Roberts said.
“It almost gave them the right to be there and stand up for me.”
The former front-rower admits the struggles dealing with his homosexuality in the macho world of the NRL also played a role in his infamous 1991 bashing of Test great Garry Jack.
“It wouldn’t have bothered me then – and I don’t say this with any pride – if I’d have killed someone on the field,” Roberts said.
“But there was a lot going on in my personal life then.
“I’ve apologised to Garry and I’ve spoken to Garry since that. He bore the brunt of my frustration.
“I’m truly sorry for that situation. That was totally irresponsible and totally not acceptable, ever.”
Roberts, who also has brain damage believed to be a result of his 13-year league career, said he suffered in silence with mental health issues.
“I wasn’t good for a long time. I regularly see a therapist now,” he said.
“But I’m good. I’m good. I mean, when you feel like you’re unable deal or handle what everyone’s expecting of you – continuously – it becomes an incredible weight to move around in society with and trying to keep up that happy face.”
A turning point in his life came when he joined NIDA in 2003.
“I was basically illiterate until I went to NIDA,” Roberts confessed.
“I learned to read and write when I was 37 years old through NIDA, though phonetics.
“It was like I was living the whole world in black and white and the whole world became colourful.
“Words can’t express how that changed me as a human being.”