After struggling to keep his sexual orientation a secret, Hig Roberts is the first elite men’s Alpine skier to come out as gay.
In an interview with the New York Times, Roberts said that by coming out publicly he hopes others are encouraged to be themselves as well.
“I just woke up one morning and I said, ‘Enough is enough,’” Roberts told the Times. “I love this sport more than anything — I’m so lucky and privileged to be doing this — but I can’t go on another day not trying to achieve the person that I am meant to be.
One of the reasons why he decided to come out was because of his younger brother Murphy, who taught him one of his most valuable lessons: live every day as your authentic self.
Roberts told the Times that Murphy was the “most special person” in his life, so when he died at the age of 22 in 2016 after a diabetic seizure during a hike, it was a blow that almost ended his career.
So, after a break from skiing, Roberts wore a helmet with the slogan “Send it for Murph.”
Roberts wants to help foster spaces where athletes are comfortable enough to come out while still playing.
He hopes to get involved with Olympic athletes in the future, whether that's “through agency or managerial positions, getting involved in IOC or the USSP, or groups like Wasserman Media Group or LA Foundation, who are realizing the potential we have here, to change this,” according to Out.
For now, he offers a simple piece of advice for queer athletes: be happy.
“You can drive yourself into the darkest realms of holes and loneliness. I think a lot of people are doing that right now, but you also have just as easy an ability to change that narrative for yourself,” he said to Out. “If it’s too scary to do it, you're not a coward. You're not a weak person.”
Roberts looks forward to living freely, the way his brother taught him to.
“I am gay,” Roberts told the Times. “It’s part of me and I’m proud of it, and I’m ready to be happy.”
A major reason why Roberts hid his sexual identity for so long was the hyper-masculine vibe of Alpine skiing, which“put pressure on him to conform,” according to the Times.
“As athletes, the visibility for LGBTQ+ people has been very quiet,” Roberts said. “There hasn't been a lot of representation in the space, especially in alpine skiing, a very masculine, aggressive, strength-based sport.”
Roberts was about 12 when he began to question his sexuality, but dismissed the notion, he told the Times. Based on what he had seen in both his small mountain town and the elite level slopes, being gay did not fit his perception of what an Alpine skier was or should be.
“I didn't know what gay was in terms of how that could exist in the spaces I loved and the spaces I found myself, which was sports,” Roberts told Out magazine in an interview. “I was not sure if what I was feeling was matching up with the way I was perceiving gayness at that time, which was obviously a wrong [depiction].”
He said not being able to be himself as a professional athlete was hindering his performance, according to the Times.
"[Being in the closet] took away a lot of the experience and the joy I could have experienced during this life and that’s a shame,” Roberts told Out. “I had moments of standing on the podium with national titles and still feeling depressed. I was almost in a daze because of the mental anguish I would feel. I had sleepless nights. I had anxiety attacks. I had big bouts of depression. I had to closet all of that from my teammates and my coaches.”
Only a few LGBT athletes in elite skiing came out before him: Erik Schinegger came out as transgender and intersex in 1968, Anja Pärson, a former Alpine skier from Sweden, came out as lesbian in 2012, and Gus Kenworthy, a former U.S. freestyle skier who now competes for Britain, came out as gay on ESPN in 2015.
There are few gay athletes across men’s sports in general, as reported by the Times. In the four North American major leagues — the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB — there are no active players who publicly identify as LGBT, though a handful of former athletes have come out in recent years.
Ryan K. Russell, a free agent who came out as bisexual in 2019, would be the second active, out NFL player ever if a team signs him in.
In women’s sports, there are many prominent gay players, including the soccer star and World Cup champion Megan Rapinoe and her fiancée, the WNBA all-star Sue Bird.