Even in this age of enlightenment, a professional athlete considering exiting the homosexuality closet must first exorcise demons.

For hulking British rugby star Gareth Thomas, outing himself last week came only after the disintegration of his marriage, thoughts of suicide and an emotional breakdown.

Calling his former secret “a tight knot in my stomach, always threatening to seep out,” he told Britian’s Daily Mail, “I was like a ticking bomb. I thought I could suppress it, keep it locked away in some dark corner of myself, but I couldn’t.”

Thomas, billed as the first top British sports figure to declare he is gay, has become the subject of intense media scrutiny following a candid and heartfelt description of his life as a homosexual in one of the world’s most macho sports.

The 35-year-old Thomas is a legend in Welsh rugby, captain of the touring British & Irish Lions and the most capped Wales player with 100 appearances.

He says he agreed to his high-profile public outing in order to push the sporting world in the footsteps of other professions where openly gay people are accepted.

The reaction he’s received from family and teammates has been “amazing,” he said.

He finally broke down in tears after a Wales game in Cardiff and confessed his secret to a coach, who rallied a few of his teammates to his side.

Their reaction surprised him. “They came in, patted me on the back and said: ‘We don’t care. Why didn’t you tell us before?’”

Thomas insists he will not make his coming out “a crusade,” but he hopes the message is clear.

“I feel I have achieved everything I could ever possibly have hoped to achieve out of rugby, and I did it being gay,” he said. “I want to send a positive message to other gay people that they can do it, too.”

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