Homosexuality in sports: three athletes who have come out as gay

by Alex Dudley

There are plenty of athletes that have come out as openly gay over the past ten years and they have been applauded for breaking down the barriers that still plague the sports we love. At both professional and college levels, the LGBT movements have been working hard to eradicate the final few hurdles that stand in the way in terms of homophobia.

Of course, the athletes who have come forward with their sexuality are still a minority. Homophobia and prejudice still run rampant and time will change that, but these sporting stars that have come out have ensured that it is widely more accepted nowadays.

The stars that have come out so far have been an inspiration for wannabe-athletes and encouraged them that being open and honest about who they are won’t affect their chances at playing at the highest level. In NFL it seems there were at least 26 cases of athletes coming out.

It goes as far as 1968, when Ray McDonald, a running back for Washington Redskins was caught having intercourse with a man in public. His coach at the time made clear there wouldn’t be discrimination in the locker room, but McDonald was fired a couple of months later, apparently due to indiscipline. One of the most recent ones was Ryan O’Callaghan, who played for two of the current teams’ favourites in the NFL Super Bowl odds: New England Patriots and Kansas Chiefs.

But NFL is not the only sport where stars have come out and some sports seem even more closed to discuss it. Take a look at 3 stars in 3 different sports who have come out as gay.

Jason Collins

Undoubtedly one of the toughest fields to be a gay athlete is within basketball. Derrick Gordon famously said: “Honestly, the NBA is not ready for an openly gay player right now.” Collins was drafted in 2001 to the Houston Rockets and played the first 12 years of his career before coming out in an interview with Sports Illustrated. In the cover story, he revealed that he opted to wear the number 98 jersey in honour of a friend that was killed in a homophobic crime in 1998.

In his final season with the Brooklyn Nets, he became the first openly gay athlete in any of the four major American sports. This was something that the NBA commissioner David Stern, Nike and the Obama’s spoke proudly about. Basketball is still widely accepted as one of the last areas where homophobia exists, but Collins indeed broke down a lot of the barriers that were there.

Tom Daley

When London won the rights to hosts to the 2012 Olympics, professional diver Tom Daley was pictured as one of the poster boys for the entire event. His career had been followed in the media since he won gold at the 2009 FINA World Championships aged 15. The 2012 Olympics brought more glory for Daley as he won bronze.

His events were among the most watched by the British public throughout the games. He has also won gold at the Commonwealth Games and has been a prominent figure on popular television shows.

One year after the Olympics, Daley released a video on his official YouTube channel where he came out as gay. In 2017, Daley and Dustin Lance Black married, and he told The Guardian that he previously dated girls, but as soon as he met Black, he realised what love was. They now live in London together and have a son.

Robbie Rogers

Soccer remains a sport where very few players come out as openly gay, especially in England where the abuse that could the players’ way from the stands can be unbearable. Justin Fashanu was the first one to come out as gay, but the forward who played for Manchester City, Notts County and Nottingham Forest would end up killing himself in 1998 due to the abuse suffered from fans. Premier League and other soccer leagues around Europe have started the Rainbow Laces campaign to promote support and tolerance, but unfortunately, it is still a long way.

Nonetheless, Fashanu would open the doors for a few others to come out later. Robbie Rogers was one of them. He played in England for Leeds United and MLS side Columbus Crew before announcing his retirement in 2013 aged just 25.

Shortly after the announcement, he came out as gay stating in his blog: “I’m a soccer player, I’m Christian, and I’m gay. Those are things that people might say wouldn’t go together well. However, my family raised me to be an individual and stand up for what I believe in.”

It was a sad state of affairs that Rogers felt the need to retire before officially coming out. However, he was given a way back into the game when Los Angeles Galaxy signed him in 2014. He went onto be the first openly gay athlete to win a championship at the professional level when he helped the Galaxy claim the MLS Cup. He is married and has a son and a daughter.

Other examples in soccer are Thomas Hitzlsperger, former Aston Villa and Stuttgart player, and the first German footballer to do so; Swedish player Anton Hysen and Jonathan Falcon, a Belgian defender who not only came out as gay but started a career in the pornography industry after retiring from the sport.