Both rugby and wider society recognising significance of winger’s story, which made front page of Sunday paper…
By Jon Holmes
The photo of a confident Levi Davis on the front page of the Mail on Sunday reflects his “sunny optimism”.
That’s a quality which the Ealing Trailfinders winger strongly displays when you meet him in person, according to Ian Gallagher’s interview feature.
In the paper, Davis, 22, shares his story of how struggling to accept he is bisexual affected his mental health, and says he is speaking out now because he wants “people to feel that they can be who they are and that it is OK to be who they are”.
His optimism has been rewarded, judging by the reactions on social. Former England prop David Flatman tweeted positively, while Ugo Monye shared a picture from a chat with Davis in Richmond.
The interview between Monye and Davis appears likely to air on BT Sport’s Rugby Tonight On Tour show on Wednesday (8.30pm).
Sam Stanley, who was playing for Ealing when he came out as gay in 2015, tweeted at Davis “Happy to see and happy for you”, while Premiership Rugby comms director Paul Morgan and rugby commentators Nick Heath (of our Sports Media LGBT+ network) and Sam Roberts were similarly supportive.
International Gay Rugby and its member clubs Kings Cross Steelers, Lancashire Typhoons, Cardiff Lions, Northampton Outlaws and Coventry Corsairs were also among those to thank and congratulate the former Bath and England youth star.
As the newspaper article notes, following on from Gareth Thomas and Stanley coming out, “Levi is the first professional rugby union player to make a similar declaration with his playing career still ahead of him – and the first to reveal he is bisexual.”
Away from rugby, Stonewall and the charity’s chief executive Nancy Kelley recognised the significance of Davis’s story, and its timeliness with Bi Visibility Day taking place next week. The rugby-loving MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, Stephen Doughty, said Davis was setting “an inspiring example for so many others”.
As the player explains, discussing his sexual orientation in public has not come without a sense of trepidation. Davis mentions that his family has concerns but that their “love and support” is so great that he wants to share this information and feels empowered to do so.
Bisexuality is still misunderstood by many people, and Davis says there were times when his feelings left him with “a sense of shame… because I felt, and still do, as though I’m not normal”.
Without yet knowing all the background to this particular newspaper interview, or exactly what Davis thought about how it appeared in print and on digital, there’s no doubt over the impact it has had and will have in the future. It’s precisely that innate feeling of being different – the ‘not normal’ he refers to – that saddled Davis with shame and its associated mental health struggles.
Clearly the response from the rugby family has been pivotal too. When Davis signed permanently for Ealing last month, having previously been with the club on loan, he praised the “culture of the club”, while director of rugby Ben Ward said how “he fitted in really well with the group last time with his personality… we’re all very pleased to have him back”.
Viewers of The X Factor: Celebrity will be familiar with Davis’ charisma too, after he reached the semi-final of the TV reality show that aired almost a year ago as part of the group Try Star, alongside fellow rugby pros Ben Foden and Thom Evans.
Davis’s friends at Bath “responded amazingly” to his news, he says, when he first shared with them that he is bi in a WhatsApp chat. He also describes the complicated environment in men’s team sport of a dressing room – a place that carries a unique level of understanding, built over time among trusted team-mates – and how sometimes comments might be deemed ‘permissible’ there in a way that would not be tolerated in another space.
It’s another reminder of how ‘banter’ cannot be easily defined, and also that camaraderie is derived from a mutual respect and friendship. Reports from within sports environments about certain words and behaviours often carry concerns for outsiders, but it sounds like there were plenty of welcoming signals in the Bath camp that Davis was able to pick up on – and crucially, he suggests he would have felt confident to challenge an instance of discrimination if it had arisen.
Ultimately, he has arrived at a point in time where he can appreciate that, in fact, some people do care that he is bi, and also that he feels comfortable to say so – his family and friends, others in his sport, and those he wants to reach through the process of coming out publicly. Giving voice to that conclusion negates entirely the ‘who cares?’ responses, whether they are expressed in an attempt to show casual support, dismissiveness, or to antagonise (a glance at the Mail Online comments section gives examples of all of those, and more).
As Davis himself says, “I am a bit niche and difficult to categorise: a black, bisexual, privately educated rugby professional.” When we begin to acknowledge who we represent – something bigger than ourselves – a sense of responsibility often follows.
Davis’s rugby talent is evident from the video posted on Twitter by the Trailfinders when his signing was announced. Fans were thrilled to have him back on a two-year deal and providing he can get back to his best form, his ambitions of a top-flight return and perhaps even a senior England cap one day are within his grasp.
The newspaper feature concludes with Davis describing how he now feels free, happy and authentic. He recommends that for anyone going through something similar who has reached that point when they are deliberating whether to share their truth with someone else – “just pull off the plaster and do it”.
Only the individual can make that decision, and it’s always a bit of a leap of faith, even if you think you’ll land safely. What we can all influence is the messages that person receives, both before and after – as Davis says in his tweet on Sunday night, they truly mean the world.
UPDATE – further messages from Davis’s old club Bath Rugby, his former team-mate Alex Davies, Wasps winger Callum Sirker, the Rugby Players Association, San Diego Legion’s US international Psalm Wooching, and former footballer Thomas Beattie.
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