For some reason, when an athlete comes out and openly admits that they are gay, the sports world becomes enamored with the subject. The media goes into rampage mode and bombards the athlete with questions on how they feel, what made them come out, and how they anticipate being welcomed in the locker room. With the recent announcement of Michael Sam coming out and becoming the first gay athlete seeking to join the NFL, he has had to prep for the combine in a situation that no other college athlete has faced.
Whether it is because of his physical ability or the emotional and mental anguish he faced in the days leading up to the combine, Sam showed NFL scouts a slow 40-yard dash time and an overall less than stellar performance. I suppose Sam could have waited to come out until after the draft, but wouldn’t that go against who he really is? Sam came out because he felt the time was right, something that is admirable, especially within the NFL. Other athletes, such as Jason Collins, came out while they were still playing, in an effort to show who they really were and to be role models for those who were struggling with their own sexual identities.
Because the issue is so new, particularly in American sports, the media always creates a frenzy whenever a player comes out. While the list of gay athletes in American sports is rather short, its still fascinating to see how the media reacts to athletes coming out. Take Glenn Burke for instance. Playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the late 1970s, he came out to his teammates during the season, eventually leading him to be traded to the Oakland A’s before his retirement. Burked died in 1995 of complications from AIDS and his coming out went unnoticed because of the era in which it occurred. If he were to come out now, the media would be publicizing his every mood and he would have probably won many civil rights awards.
The following is a list of five gay male athletes who have broken down social and cultural barriers within their countries and sports. For many athletes and other people coming out, it is a daily struggle to face who they really are as people, versus what their peers want to see them as. Those to have come out have gone on to say that they had wished there were more people to talk to about the subject and that it would have been easier for them to come out earlier if there were. Regardless, the last decade has seen an increase in athletes openly admitting they are gay, and by doing so, they are helping a generation see that you don’t need to hide who you really are, even in sports.
5. Robbie Rogers – Los Angeles Galaxy (MLS)
After playing several season with the Columbus Crew, Rogers signed a contract to play with the European club Leeds United in 2011. As a standout for the Crew and member of the US Men’s National Team, Rogers was an up and coming striker for both clubs. However, as a member of Leeds, Rogers was sidelined with injuries and left the club in January 2013 to return to the states.
The following month, Rogers retired from professional soccer at the age of 25 and announced he was gay. He became the second professional soccer player in Britain to come out other than Justin Fashanu in 1990. His announcement in writing on his blog noted that “I’m a soccer player, I’m Christian, and I’m gay.” By announcing that he was gay, Rogers was trying to avoid the spotlight and media frenzy that would surround him if he were an active player. He was signed by the LA Galaxy in May 2013, right after Jason Collins had announced that he was gay. On May 26th, Rogers became the first openly gay man to play in a professional sports league. Collins was still a free agent at the time of his announcement, so he technically wasn’t an active player.
4. Michael Sam – University of Missouri (NCAAF)
Unless you live under a rock, I’m sure you’ve already heard about Michael Sam. Earlier this year, Sam announced in an interview that he was a gay man. This announcement came on the heels of a season in which Sam was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year for the 2013 season and he had declared himself for the NFL Draft. Sam became the first gay athlete seeking entrance into the NFL, and almost all indications have shown that he will be able to achieve his dream.
While he is didn’t impress very many people at the NFL Combine, he will get a chance from some team looking for a pass rusher on defense. What makes Sam’s announcement so intriguing is that he played his college football in the toughest and roughest conferences in the country. While some of his teammates claim they knew before his official announcement, his tough exterior and hard-as-nails work ethic proves, you can’t judge a book by its cover. Hopefully, Sam will have his fair share of opportunities at the next level to succeed on the field, and not just because teams think he would be a good public relations case.
3. Jason Collins – Brooklyn Nets (NBA)
Collins became the first openly gay man to ever play a basketball game in February 2014, coming almost a year after his initial announcement that he was gay. Maybe it is because teams wanted to shy away from him and the media circus, or maybe it’s due to the fact that he is on the downside of his career. Either way, Collins made history for being the first openly gay athlete in the four major US sports.
So far, the reception for Collins in the NBA has been as good as it can be. In his first game as a Brooklyn Net, Collins played 10 minutes, grabbed two rebounds, and received a standing ovation when he entered the game. Considering the ovation was on the road against the Los Angeles Lakers, I’d say Collins’ first game back was a success. Since coming out last May, Collins has appeared on multiple talk shows and conferences, including being welcomed at the State of the Union Speech by President Obama in January. The fact that Collins is welcomed wherever he goes and that he is comfortable now that he has announced he is gay shows that the US’ sports culture is certainly ready and capable of accepting gay athletes in any major sport.
2. Sean Avery – New York Rangers (NHL)
As a member of the Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars, and New York Rangers, Avery had a personality on the ice that always created a buzz. His agitating and instigating play on the ice resulted in many fights and penalty minutes for him and his opponents. His off-the-ice antics also created quite a stir, as he repeatedly made comments directed towards his ex girlfriends and even causing a ruckus with Rangers’ Coach John Tortorella on Twitter.
Avery was the first NHL player to speak out in favor of marriage equality in New York and has even served on the board for “Athlete Ally”, an organization of straight athletes that are attempting to rid homophobia in sports. Whether or not Avery is actually gay is another question. Avery had been reported to have been engaged with Bravo’s Andy Cohen, although it seems that was never really true. Avery has dated gorgeous women, including Elisha Cuthebert and Rachel Hunter, so I doubt he is actually gay. However, his work with promoting the acceptance of homosexuality within sports is something that is seldom seen in US sports culture. His efforts are paving the way for young men and women throughout the country to seek the guidance they need in an effort to come out and accept themselves as gay athletes.
1. Gareth Thomas – Welsh Rugby National Team
One of the few stars who have not come the United States, Thomas is one of the greatest Welsh rugby players to have ever appeared in international competition. His international career spanned from 1995-2007, making 100 appearances for the Welsh National team. After breaking his arm during a game in July 2011, Thomas retired from the sport after he failed to regain his full health.
While he was still playing professional rugby, Thomas announced that he was a gay man in 2009. His pride and love for the game led him to announce that he didn’t want to be known as a gay rugby player, only a rugby player that is a man. This unique perspective is what more people should focus on, whether it be a male of female gay athlete. It doesn’t matter whether you are gay or straight, most fans and managers only care about if you can play, and Thomas showed time and time again his toughness and skills were among the best in the game.
Since coming out, Thomas has worked with several UK organizations to end homophobia and promote people coming out. In 2009 Thomas was voted top of the Pink List 101 most influential gay people in the UK. He also received Stonewall’s Hero of the Year award for 2010.