The rugby league great who blazed a trail by announcing he was gay at the height of his playing career is set to headline the Albury-Wodonga Winter Solstice in 2018.
Ian Roberts has represented Australia, played in five State of Origin series and was renowned as a fearless forward for Manly, South Sydney and North Queensland.
The towering 193cm footballer made his mark amidst the macho culture of a distinctly working-class game before coming out in 1994.
Roberts has been open about the personal and professional toll of that admission, including the depression he suffered trying to keep up the pretence of the “game’s worst-kept secret”.
In an interview with Fairfax earlier this year, he spoke about the death of Tyrone Unsworth, a 13-year-old boy who took his life after being bullied over his sexuality.
"As a gay person, who has been out for 20 years or more, the stories of Tyrone Unsworth are too f...king familiar," he said.
“I was that kid.
“There are kids in the suburbs killing themselves, and the game has a responsibility to make kids safe.”
Roberts said it was important for “sports (stars) to step up because … kids listen to them, they have an aura”.
“They can walk into a school and talk to that room and help end the bullying of anyone who cannot stand up for themselves. Like Tyrone,” he said.
Albury-Wodonga Winter Solstice co-organiser Stuart Baker said Roberts would be a truly inspirational speaker for the June 21 event that aims to shed light on the silent grief of suicide.
“We thought Ian would be a good fit for the solstice because of the struggles he has endured and the fact he has made good,” Mr Baker said.
He will be a topical speaker in light of the current discussions and vote on gay marriage in Australia.
“It ties in with our mental health theme and I’m sure there will be many people looking forward to hearing him talk.”
Roberts, 52, has proven a man of many talents.
Post-football, he attended NIDA where he trained as an actor and secured roles in more than 40 films and television programs.
His actor’s pay comes nowhere near that of a professional football star.
In many ways the price Roberts paid was equally high, braving the fickle public spotlight as a pioneer for gay sportsmen.
But when mums and dads write to thank him for giving their son the courage to come out, Roberts is reminded of the importance of his role.
"That's why gay men have to be visible,” he told Fairfax.
“We have to make it okay. We have a responsibility. We all do."
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