Former New Zealand Test player Heath Davis is the country’s first male international cricketer to speak publicly about being gay.
Davis, 50, played five Tests and 11 one-day caps for the Black Caps between 1994 and 1997 and was known as an intimidating if fickle 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 former England wicketkeeper Steven Davies in 2011.
During Davis’ first tour to England in 1994, he began to really discover himself, he told The Spinoff, despite telling his mother he was gay from a young age.
“I’ve been privately going to a few bars and such just to see what life is like. You’re on the other side of the world, no one will know you,” he said. But he left that part of his life there. “There was a lot of keeping your personal life separate.”
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He suspected some of his teammates knew he was gay before telling some of them in 1997, but he was never asked about it. “I certainly didn’t lead a gay life, wasn’t part of the scene, didn’t have a partner. There was nothing to tie it to, if you get my meaning,” Davis said.
Davis got into his first gay relationship when he was 27 while playing for Wellington, but he has been reluctant to make public appearances as a couple. When a contract offer came from Auckland, Davis saw an opportunity to move away from the city he wasn’t comfortable with.
After the couple moved to Auckland, Davis told his new team’s manager that he was gay, which was passed on to his team members and “didn’t seem to be that big of an issue”.
Davis is now on a new journey – a journey in tension with his sexuality. “I live single, part of a group of other men as a Christian group.”
An international study of homophobia in sport published in May found that New Zealand gay and bisexual men in both youth and adult sport are most likely to keep their sexuality a secret, with many saying they fear bullying from teammates and discrimination from coaches and officials.
More than half of all participants felt that team sports were more homophobic than the rest of New Zealand society, while gay men were far more likely to think so (69%) than anyone else.
Former Wellington Firebirds player Stephen Mather says Davis told him about his sexuality in 1997, when there were no other outwardly gay men playing top-flight cricket at the time.
“There were 80 or 90 men – so that doesn’t make much sense on a probability scale,” Mather said in the video. “There were some pretty free-thinking people in the cricket circles back then, but there were also some pretty old-fashioned attitudes.”
Homophobic attitudes in sports are still very common, said Madeleine Chapman, editor of The Spinoff and producer of the documentary series.
“But I think so [Davis’s story] could potentially be a way for other athletes to share parts of themselves if they’re OK with it,” Chapman said.
The reactions have been very positive so far, she said. “I think that other athletes, especially young athletes, being able to see that kind of honesty and vulnerability being warmly accepted by readers and viewers can only be encouraging.”