Part of Outsports’ series on our 100 most important moments in gay sports history.
Tennis, 1981. You know her by one word: Martina. She is not only one of the greatest lesbian athletes of all time, not only one of the greatest tennis players of all time, not only one of the most important lesbians of all time, she is one of the greatest athletes of all time. Period. Career titles: 177 (world record for men and women, spanning four decades). Grand Slam titles: 59 (world record for men and women). ESPN and Bleacher Report have both named her one of the America's 25 greatest athletes.
When she came out of the closet in 1981, she had recently defected from Czechoslovakia to the United States. Even then, at 18, her star was quickly rising with 11 Grand Slam titles already under her belt. While a small group of lesser-known athletes had come, and while Billie Jean King was outed months earlier, Martina was the first big-time athlete in her prime to come out publicly by her own volition.
Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation, told ESPN:
Martina was the first legitimate superstar who literally came out while she was a superstar. She exploded the barrier by putting it on the table. She basically said this part of my life doesn't have anything to do with me as a tennis player. Judge me for who I am.
While brave, the public revelation cost her. She told Outsports in 2007 that she believed she had lost about $10 million in endorsement deals as corporate executives in the 1980s avoided her in the midst of the AIDS scare.
Martina has used her position for good, fighting the anti-gay Amendment 2 in 1992 and speaking at the gay march on Washington in 1993. She's also worked with PETA, AARP and she has spoken strongly against the Communism that she escaped from in Eastern Europe.
I met Navratilova only once, in 2007 when she was making the rounds as spokesperson for the AARP. I was blessed to spend a couple hours with her at Good Morning America and then in her hotel room. She couldn't have been more gracious, sitting with me for far longer than she said she had. I'll forever remember those couple of hours with one of the great sports legends of our time.
For more information: