LGBT athletes coming out in the sports world
Once upon a time, the words ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ were forbidden in the sports world. But with the slow acceptance LGBT rights worldwide, more LGBT athletes are coming out of the closet.
Numerous stories have been told of queer athletes being forced to shelve their true sexual identity, of sexual discrimination, and unfair treatment in the sports world.
But times have changed somewhat as queer athletes can now wear their sexual identity like a badge of honor.
LGBT athletes coming out in public
With tales of sexual discrimination and unfair treatment in sports decreasing, stories of support are now taking their place.
Everyone knows of tennis pros Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, basketball player Jason Collins, Olympic soccer player Megan Rapinoe, and Olympic diver Greg Louganis.
Hopefully, we won’t need to hear again about LGBT athletes losing their sponsors and support like what Billie Jean King experienced.
Though many athletes had openly admitted to staying in the closet longer than they should have because they feared losing their endorsements, this isn’t an issue anymore.
Support for LGBT athletes coming out
This is because Nike and Adidas, two of the leading brands in sportswear, have made a public commitment to support LGBT athletes.
This year, Adidas officials added a new clause to its endorsement contracts stating that sponsorship will not be affected if athletes publicly announce they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
Meanwhile, Nike’s #betrue campaign– launched in 2014– is a line of LGBT-inspired sportswear with rainbow colors. It was designed to celebrate the passion of sport by all athletes, regardless of sexual orientation.
Nike even took things a step further, distancing themselves from athletes like Manny Pacquiao who openly discriminate against the LGBT community.
Supporters of sports teams have also been welcoming of LGBT athletes into their fold.
Likewise, there are the You Can Play Project and the organization AthleteAlly that are supportive of LGBT athletes.
LGBT athletes coming out in universities
LGBT positivity in the sports world doesn’t stop at the professional stage, as even universities have opened up to queer acceptance and inclusion.
Recently, six male Yale University athletes have come out and are forming an LGBT student-athlete support group.
Timothy Cox (running), Jake Leffew (golf), Luc Ryan-Schreiber (rugby), Wayne Zhang (diving), and two additional athletes who have not completely come out met through mutual connections and decided LGBT athletes needed a support group.
The group is intentionally informal: not so much an official LGBT group, and more like a not-so-secret society that other queer and questioning athletes will know they can connect with. They also hope to include female athletes in the group soon.
“One thing we’ve been pretty cognizant about is that change in terms of culture will [not] occur when people are dragged [into it]. We want to be more subtle than having specific workshops or seminars,” said Wayne Zhang.
Zhang has directed an LGBT-affirming video– which will play at the beginning of the next school year– where coaches and students express their support for queer athletes on campus.
Supporting LGBT athletes coming out, Zhang says, “can plant a seed that says queer athletes do exist.”