Married father-of-two Keegan Hirst, 27, has spoken to the Sunday Mirror about the inner torment he felt trying to come to terms with his sexuality.
The Batley Bulldogs prop said: “At first I couldn’t even say ‘I’m gay’ in my head, let alone out loud.
“Now I feel like I’m letting out a long breath that I’ve held in for a long time.”
Cross-code international Gareth Thomas was previously the only openly gay rugby player after he came out while playing for rugby union side Cardiff Blues in 2009.
Thomas, who captained Wales and the British and Irish Lions, went on to play for league side Crusaders before retiring, but Hirst is the first player to come out publicly while playing the 13-man game.
Hirst, who recently told his wife to alleviate guilt she felt about their marriage breaking down, admitted that at his lowest ebb he considered taking his own life.
“On the worst days I’d think, ‘I can’t do this, I’d rather be dead than for it all to come out’,” he added.
“Thankfully I have friends and family I love and was able to talk myself out of it.”