(This story was published in 2001).

Being gay and being a jock is not necessarily a poisonous combination to Madison Avenue, the New York Times reports in its July 9, 2001 edition (note: you may need to register to read the article).

Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliott details three recent campaigns that feature openly gay and lesbian athletes: a Coors Light ad featuring Olympic swimmer Bruce Hayes (left), a Subaru commercial that includes Martina Navratilova, and ex-high school football captain Corey Johnson’s pitch for a Mitchell Gold Furniture. (In addition, openly gay Olympic diver David Pichler has been a spokesman for Speedo).

“Gay professional athletes talk about a large reason why they don’t come out is because they’ll lose their endorsements,” Johnson, 19, told the Times. “Here, you have an athlete who is gay, and the reason he is in the ad is that he’s gay.”

While still rare in an ad sea filled with straight bimbos and himbos, these gay pitchmen are one more sign that the closet door in sports is being cracked open.

“If someone doesn’t want to buy our furniture because of our use of gays and lesbians in advertising, that’s OK,” said Mitchell Gold, whose firm is based in Taylorsville, N.C. Letters and e-mails praising the campaign have outweighed the few “nasty” ones. “I want our brand to stand for style, and for doing the right thing.”

Society’s evolving image of gay men was one reason given for the willingness of companies to do the ads. Hayes, a 1984 gold medallist, is part of a Coors’ campaign called “Be Original,” which also features John Elway, Magic Johnson, Gordie Howe and Willie Mays.

“The traditional stereotype of gay men as `sissies’ is being replaced with more athletic-looking images” as more people become “very involved in sports and fitness, just like the rest of society,” Michael Wilke, executive director of Commercial Closet in New York, told the Times.

We’ll know progress has really been made when Bud’s “Wassup” ads feature a group of athletic gay guys phoning each other saying, “You go, girl!.”