Rugby: Campbell Johnstone becomes first All Black to publicly come out as gay

Campbell Johnstone in 2006.
Campbell Johnstone in 2006. Photo credit: Photosport

In a momentous milestone for NZ rugby, former prop Campbell Johnstone has become the first All Blacks player - past or present - to publicly come out as gay.

The front-rower played three tests for the All Blacks in 2005. He made 72 appearances for Canterbury at National Provincial Championship level between 2002-08, as well as 72 for the Crusaders in Super Rugby from 2004-08.

The 43-year-old says he resisted coming out during his playing days, burdened by stereotypes of what a Kiwi rugby player should be, telling only a close group of friends and family of his sexuality.

"Within myself, I was never comfortable with the whole concept and my dream was to be an All Black," he told TVNZ. "My view of an All Black was manly, strong, possibly with a wife and kids.

"It would come to the surface when I may have had a bad game, and I would look at that side of me and blame that side for it.

"It slowly starts to affect you, and it’s hard living a double life or living a lie."

Johnstone says he decided the time was right to go public in the hope it may embolden others facing a similar predicament.

"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," Johnstone told TVNZ.

"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 sports-wise that gives everyone closure."

Campbell Johnstone in action for the Crusaders in 2007.
Campbell Johnstone in action for the Crusaders in 2007. Photo credit: Photosport

NZ Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson has quickly offered his support for his former teammate, whom he played alongside at both the Crusaders and Canterbury.

"I want to acknowledge and support Campbell for sharing his authentic story," said Robinson. "Rugby is a sport that is welcoming to everyone and a place where people should feel safe to be who they are.

"We know there are people who have not always been comfortable to be who they are in rugby. We want to be clear, no matter who you love, rugby has your back."

Johnstone left New Zealand in 2009 to take up a contract with French team Biarritz, where he spent three seasons, before joining Welsh side Ospreys. He had brief stints in Russia and Romania, before hanging up his boots in 2014.