In recent years, people from numerous high-profile fields have publicly declared themselves as members of the LGBTQ+ community. Among them have been individuals from tech (such as OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and Apple CEO Tim Cook), the culinary arts (chefs such as Kristen Dish and Art Smith), politics (U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, among many others) and show business (from Lil Nas X to Alexandra Billings to Matt Bomer).
However, one realm has had a distinct lack of LGBTQ+ role models: sportsat least, at least among male players.
One shining local example of an out player is Nick McCarthy, who plays for the Chicago Hounds rugby team. McCarthy talked about rugby and sexuality, among other topics, at "Out at Rugby," an event that took place Jan. 18 at the local law firm Hinshaw & Culbertson. Partners David Alfini, Vincent Rizzo and Todd Young hosted the event, with Young holding a Q&A with McCarthy.
McCarthywho is a scrum half (which is a main playmaker)was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and is now returning to the Midwest after a career in Ireland that included stints with Leinster and Munster.
At the event, immigration attorney Ian Wagreich (a former high-school rugby coach himself) got things rolling by talking about how the firm became connected with McCarthy, as Hinshaw & Culbertson was asked to handle the team's immigration work; the Hounds have included players from every continent except Antarctica.
During the Q&A, McCarthy revealed that, among other things, that he started playing rugby at age 6 (which he said was "like flag football" at that point) and that his father was also a scrum half but "was not a pushy parent."
Regarding the discovery of his sexuality and its relation to playing rugby, McCarthy said that he initially chose to "ignore" his orientation, "but two years ago … I decided to take some steps in the right direction" toward coming out, recalling that "all the reactions were amazing." He had been "fighting against" coming out, but his network of family and close friends helped him: "I always knew it would be fine, but I just wasn't ready."
And even within the macho world of rugby, McCarthy's experience "has been unbelievably positive," he said, adding that he "went back and forth" about coming out, especially given that he is a very private individual. "I was scared … but I was pleasantly surprised."
McCarthy realized that the more open he was, the "happier" he was: "Being my authentic, true self makes me a better teammate," he said. "I'm just a lot nicer to myself."
He added that "my biggest struggle was with my own self-acceptance. The team probably accepted me more than I accepted myself." The first person he told about his sexuality was his best friend, who was supportive and said, "We're going to get through this."
McCarthy revealed that, as part of his coming-out process, he contacted now-former NFL player Carl Nassib on Instagramand he heard back from him. "Within a week, he had set up a Zoom call," McCarthy said. "I didn't think he had even seen the message."
Nassib inspired McCarthy, who said, "I think it's really important for people to be role models," even if being one instills confidence in only one child.
When asked how the United States and Ireland compare in terms of LGBTQ+ acceptance, McCarthy responded, "I get the sense that, in America, there's a bit more anonymity. Ireland is smaller; in Dublin, everybody knows each other. … At the end of the day, my experience has been that nobody actually cares." This disclosure led Young to conclude that McCarthy "would get recognized" in Ireland and that coming out could not have been subtle. Regarding the contrasting rugby scenes between the two countries, McCarthy said that Ireland's "is more intense," as the season runs from September to June; the Hounds' regular season is considerably shorter (March through June).
McCarthy also speculated on the future, saying, "I think it is getting better. I hope that in five or 10 years' time, it won't [be a big thing to come out]."
Fielding questions at the Jan. 18 event, McCarthy talked about topics such as diet and fitness. One audience member mentioned that there's a local gay rugby team, the Chicago Dragons, and expressed hope that McCarthy could attend one of the matches.
Hinshaw & Culbertson has hosted numerous diversity-related events over the years and has a prominent LGBTQ+ affinity network, which Alfini and Young lead.
For more about the Chicago Hounds, visit www.chicagohounds.com . Home games are played at SeatGeek Stadium, in Bridgeview, Illinois.