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Elusive Teddy Thomas opens up on media, attention and fatherhood

La Rochelle's French wing Teddy Thomas (L) runs with the ball as he fights for it with Sale's New Zealander centre Telusa Veainu (R) during the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 4 rugby union match between Sale Sharks and Stade Rochelais (La Rochelle), at the Salford Community Stadium, west of Manchester in north-west England on January 21, 2024. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

There are very few rugby players who open up so honestly. And frankly, it was unlikely that Teddy Thomas would. Avoiding the spotlight and the media, journalists’ questions and interaction with fans has been part of his daily routine for most of his career. He has got people used to it, which has not failed to fuel a certain hostility towards him.

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But this time, facing Mathieu Bastareaud, 28-capped Thomas drops his armour.

Invited to take part in an exceptional seventh episode of the BastaShow – to be watched exclusively on the RugbyPassFR YouTube channel – the 30-year-old player from La Rochelle spoke out at length.

He no longer responds to media requests

Why such silence from the media? “It’s something I’m trying to protect myself from,” he replies before continuing.

Thomas has been in the spotlight from the start. His first test at the age of 19 was against Fiji in 2014, scoring a hat-trick in front of 45,300 spectators at Marseille’s Velodrome. It’s a hell of a start to a career. Who was this UFO?

“When I was 19, I was sent in front of all the journalists to put myself at the top of the charts. I was the new icon of French rugby. I certainly played two good games and scored four tries, but I wasn’t prepared for that,” he admits.

He celebrates his tries in a very personal way, he was nicknamed ‘the American’ when he played at Biarritz (for eight years), and this fashion convert has never gone unnoticed. You’d think he’d always sought it out. But somewhere along the line, he always regretted it.

Whether with the French national team, Biarritz, Racing 92 or now La Rochelle, requests for interviews often go unanswered.

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“At the time when I was still at Racing, we had a bit of freedom to decide whether we wanted to be in the media or not. And I always refused,” he says.

“Sometimes, from an interview, they’d pull out a little line and turn it into a headline, and sometimes it meant absolutely nothing.

“Today it’s complicated with social medias and open days for the media in clubs. I admit that I do as little as possible. Not out of disrespect for the journalist who comes along, but I don’t want my words to be distorted, for people to take me for someone I’m not; I’ve suffered a lot from that in the past, particularly when I was first selected.

“The world of professionalism forces you to meet everyone’s expectations, to say what needs to be said to the person who wants to hear it, and in the end to depend on people and forget the person you are. That’s what bothers me: feeling obliged to do and say things because someone tells me it’s a good thing to do.”

Running away

He grew up with social media, but soon turned his back on it. His Twitter account? It’s managed by someone else. His Instagram account? He blocks comments. Wherever he can, he deploys his Teflon shell.

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“When I was young, of course I read what was said about me. But when I really got a kick out of it, I stopped,” he tells in the BastaShow.

“Sometimes what happens on the socials is hard. It’s a real plague in sport and life in general. I don’t interact with fans because I get more insults than positive messages.

“But I’ve learnt from my mistakes. I’ve learnt that it’s not just people who want to hurt you. Before, I’d get angry right away because I felt like people were insulting you for 80 minutes and then when you left the stadium, it was the same people asking you for photos. I put everyone in the same basket. I got very, very angry very quickly.

“When people put labels on you, it’s complicated to take them off. No matter how hard you try, it’s over. I live with it and today I’m very happy, I’m very fulfilled. But I can’t wait to get out of the media spotlight.”

Seeing a psychologist

Teddy Thomas claims to have come out of this vicious circle. But he didn’t do it alone. “I went to see a psychologist”, he reveals.

“I went to ask for comfort and help from a professional. It’s often taboo to say you’re seeing a psychologist, but if they’re there, it’s because they’re good for something. She helped me a lot in terms of taking out the positive rather than the negative and moving on. More than once I could have given up and said I’m done. Do a normal job where nobody knows me anymore and I’d be just as happy.”

The fact that he has come out of it is also thanks to “family, friends and the love I have for this sport, because I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. I love being out on the pitch, I love playing rugby. That’s what keeps me going.”

He never knew his father

He never knew his father and wanted more than anything to become one, and the arrival of little Théodore has changed his life forever.

“It’s a lot of happiness, a lot of joy, to love someone you don’t know, who comes into your life after nine months; you’re 100% devoted to this little bundle of joy,” he smiles.

“I’ve always wanted to be a father because I’ve never had one; I’ve always had this lack of fatherhood. I wanted to give something back that I didn’t have.”

For some time now, Teddy Thomas has been patiently picking up the pieces of his life, a mosaic of multiple origins – Parisian, Malian, Basque.

“I never got to know African culture because I never knew my father. I don’t know the African part of my family. I only know the French part of the family, Clichy-sous-Bois.

“Today, my priority is my job, my family, my son, my wife, everything that’s going on around me. There are so many serious things in life that when you look into the eyes of your child, who is laughing and smiling, you tell yourself that you have to keep things in perspective.”

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