Queer athletes have made sports history recently by challenging norms and inspiring change. From Billie Jean King to Michael Sam, coming-out has paved the way for a more diverse and inclusive sporting world.
In exploring the global presence of openly queer athletes, this focuses on countries with substantial representation: the Americas, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. However, some players still express discomfort rooted in homophobia and a lack of education about their teammates’ coming-out.
Soccer may be one of the sports with the largest number of openly LGBTQ+ players. Getafe CF Czech midfielder, Jakub Jankto, recently made an announcement that received overwhelming support from his teammates. His courage reflects the growing acceptance and openness among male soccer players.
The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup was a historic event for LGBTQ+ representation. Over 13% of the athletes competing in the tournament are proudly out, marking a significant milestone in the journey toward inclusivity in international sports.
Megan Rapinoe and Marta Silva, two figures in soccer, are LGBTQ+ icons. Rapinoe, who recently announced her retirement, is not only known for her soccer skills but also advocates for LGBTQ+ rights. Marta participated in her sixth and final Women’s World Cup but continues to leave a lasting impact on the sport.
As women from various backgrounds and nations proudly represent the LGBTQ+ community on the world stage, they send a resounding message of love, acceptance, and unity, signifying a positive cultural shift.
Soccer’s commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusivity is further evidenced by partnerships with organizations like You Can Play, dedicated to eradicating homophobia in sports, as some athletes can’t come out due to violence and discrimination.
American Football (NFL)
The most widely known coming out story belongs to Carl Nassib. Using social media, Nassib announced in 2021 that he is gay and donated $100,000 to an LGBTQ+ youth suicide prevention organization.
Nassib mentioned that youth sports are influenced by harmful language and behavior from older players, which spread stereotypes that delay younger athletes from coming out.
Nassib’s story catalyzes change, challenging the deep-seated norms of masculinity and pushing the professional sports world to reevaluate its culture.
“I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand,” stated Jason Collins in 2013.
Collins is a former National Basketball Association (NBA) center who played for the Stanford Cardinals. His coming out happened against the backdrop of a broader discussion about LGBTQ+ representation in American professional sports although there is still a lot of hate and bigotry.
It’s not just about one individual; it’s about changing the culture and creating a more inclusive space for queer athletes. Collins challenged stereotypes as the first NBA player to publicly come out, and he reinforced the notion that living truthfully and authentically is vital
Known for its intense physicality, hockey is another arena where open queerness is becoming slightly more visible. The National Hockey League (NHL) has taken steps towards inclusivity, also partnering with organizations like “You Can Play”.
Stephen Finkle and Brock McGillis, both affiliated with the National Hockey League (NHL), came out in this hypermasculine world of professional sports. As a former NHL player, McGillis shared the challenges that he faced, highlighting the resistance within these environments to LGBTQ+ visibility.
These trailblazers not only create a safer environment but also influence how queer individuals are portrayed in sports media. While the world has a long way to go, there is anticipation for a future where LGBTQ+ athletes are universally embraced—in sports and beyond.