Former New Zealand Test player Heath Davis has become the country’s first male international cricketer to publicly speak about being gay.
Davis, 50, played five Tests and 11 one-day internationals for the Black Caps between 1994 and 1997 and was known as an intimidating, if inconsistent, pace bowler.
Three decades after his Test debut, Davis publicly revealed his sexuality for the first time, in an episode of the documentary series Scratched: Aotearoa’s Lost Sporting Legends.
The first international male cricketer to come out publicly was the former England wicketkeeper Steven Davies in 2011.
It was during Davis’s first tour to England in 1994 when he started to really discover himself, he told The Spinoff, though he had told his mother at an early age he was gay.
“I went to a few bars and things privately, just to see what life was like. You’re on the other side of the world, no one’s going to know you,” he said. But he left that part of his life there. “There was a lot of that, keeping your personal life separate.”
He guessed some of his teammates knew he was gay before he told a couple of them in 1997 but he was never questioned about it. “I certainly wasn’t living a gay life, wasn’t part of the scene, didn’t have a partner. There was nothing to tie it to, if you know what I mean,” Davis said.
Davis entered his first gay relationship when he was 27 years old, while playing for Wellington, but he was reluctant to appear in public as a couple. When an offer of a contract came from Auckland, Davis saw an opportunity to move away from the city he did not feel comfortable being out in.
After the couple made the move to Auckland, Davis told his new team’s manager he was gay, which was passed on to his team members and “didn’t seem to be that big an issue”.
Davis is now on a new journey – one that exists in tension with his sexuality. “I’m living single, part of a group of other men as a Christian group.”
An international study on homophobia in sport, released in May, revealed that New Zealand gay and bisexual men were the most likely to keep their sexuality secret in both youth and adult sports, with many saying they feared bullying from teammates and discrimination from coaches and officials .
More than half of all participants believed team sport is more homophobic than the rest of New Zealand society, while gay men were much more likely to believe this (69%) than anyone else.
Former Wellington Firebirds player, Stephen Mather, said Davis told him about his sexuality in 1997, when there were no other outwardly gay men playing first class cricket at that time.
“There were 80 or 90 men – so that doesn’t make a huge amount of sense on a probability scale,” Mather said in the video. “There was some pretty free thinking people in the cricket circles at that time but there were also some pretty old school attitudes as well.”
Homophobic attitudes in sport still very much exist, said Madeleine Chapman, The Spinoff’s editor and producer of the documentary series.
“But I do think that [Davis’s story] could potentially be an opening for other athletes to share parts of themselves if they’re comfortable with it,” Chapman said.
The responses have so far been very positive, she said. “I think other athletes, particularly young athletes being able to see that sort of honesty and vulnerability be warmly accepted by readers and viewers can only be encouraging.”