This profile is part of Queerty’s 2022 Out For Good series, recognizing public figures who’ve had the courage to come out and make a difference in the past year, in a month-long celebration of National Coming Out Day on October 11.

Name: Nick McCarthy, 27

Bio: Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Nick McCarthy is a pro rugby player in Ireland who publicly came out as gay earlier this year and experienced widespread support from his teammates and coaches. Raised in a family of athletes—his father played rugby in the United Rugby Championship and his sister earned a hockey scholarship to attend college in the U.S.—McCarthy started playing rugby at six years old. Later, he attended St. Michael’s College in Dublin where, unsurprisingly, he shined on the rugby team.

As a teenager, McCarthy competed at a high level, representing Leinster, an Irish professional rugby union club, at the under-16 and under-18 levels. He entered Leinster’s full academy ahead of the 2014-15 season and was promoted to the senior squad before the 2017-18 campaign. McCarthy experienced success immediately: Leister won the European Rugby Championship Cup to cap off his first season.

 

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Despite his success, McCarthy says he considered quitting the sport, due to the stress of being closeted.

“It affected me so much that I agonized over my future and contemplated walking away from rugby altogether because I just didn’t think I could come out while playing rugby,” he said in an interview earlier this year on Leister’s official website.

McCarthy signed a two-year deal with one of Leister’s rival squads, Munster, before returning for the 2021-22 season.

Coming out: McCarthy’s coming out process started when he broached the subject with two respected coaches, Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster (Cullen currently coaches Leister). The support they offered showed him that it’s possible to be openly gay and a rugby star.

“The support that I got from them straight away was unbelievable,” he said in the interview with Leister’s website. “They helped and guided me over the months that followed so that I felt more comfortable to come out to the group.”

After those conversations, McCarthy felt comfortable enough with his own identity to share the news with his teammates in January. He says the room “erupted.”

“My experience since coming out though has been entirely positive,” he said. “I have realized that anyone who cares about you, just wants you to be happy.”

 

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Now, McCarthy says his friends and teammates are helping him further discover himself. He’s playing the best rugby of his career, and living an open life. The change is gratifying.

“It was immediately a weight off my shoulders,” he said. “It’s hard to perform at your best when you are carrying something, anything, and that’s the same for all the lads. For me it was my sexuality, for others it could be stuff at home, or studies or whatever.”

McCarthy drew inspiration from other out athletes: Anybody who questions why athletes feel it’s necessary to come out should look no further than McCarthy. He credits the experiences of NFL player Carl Nassib and Australian soccer star Josh Cavallo, who publicly came out as gay last year, for giving him the inspiration to finally live as his authentic self.

Rugger Jack Dunne, who used to play for Leinster, publicly came out as bisexual last year, as well.

“But looking at Carl Nassib or Josh Cavallo coming out and Jack Dunne here in Leinster and how he spoke publicly last year about his bisexuality, has helped me a lot,” said McCarthy. “I’ve had good conversations with each of them and they’ve been hugely encouraging.”

 

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Now, maybe closeted athletes will look towards McCarthy or advice. He’s happy to provide it.

“I feel if I can now help others come out in professional sport or in their everyday lives and make being gay more normal and not a thing to be worried about, then that is a positive,” he said.

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