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Gareth Thomas Retires: Rugby Star Was World's First Openly Gay Player (PHOTOS)

Gareth Thomas

First Posted: 10/26/2011 9:50 am Updated: 12/25/2011 5:12 am

Gareth Thomas, the Welsh rugby player who became the world's first openly gay professional male athlete in a team sport after coming out in 2009, stunned fans by announcing he is leaving the sport for good Tuesday.

As the AFP is reporting, the 37-year-old Thomas, who switched codes to play for rugby league outfit Crusaders two years ago, came to the decision after realizing he could no longer "give 100 percent" to the sport. "I have listened to and discussed this decision with many of my family and close friends," Thomas said in a statement. "My mind has told me that the time to retire is now...this is a sad day but I know that my time has come to an end as a player. I do not know what lies ahead, but I feel the challenge of something different excites me more than another year of rugby. My passion for the amazing game will never end or leave me, however."

Thomas had been due to play for Wales against England in the Gillette Four Nations Series on Saturday, according to reports.

Though he hoped the revelations over his sexual orientation would not define his career ("I am a rugby player and first and foremost I am a man," he reportedly said in 2009), Thomas will no doubt continue to be viewed as a pioneer in what has been traditionally considered a macho sport. Thomas' legacy also seems poised to get the cinematic treatment, with Academy Award-nominated actor Mickey Rourke believed to have expressed an interest in portraying the burly athlete onscreen.

In addition to Thomas, take a look at some other noteworthy athletes who are openly gay below:

Gareth Thomas
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Thomas's decision to confirm his sexuality while still an active rugby player was praised by LGBT rights advocates as a brave move. Though others have since followed suit, Thomas hoped people who eventually consider his sexuality as irrelevant. "What I choose to do when I close the door at home has nothing to do with what I have achieved in rugby," he told The Guardian. "I'd love for it, in 10 years' time, not to even be an issue in sport, and for people to say: 'So what?'"

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Filed by Curtis M. Wong  |