clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Outsports turns 15: How times have changed

While few major athletes have come out, LGBT people in all sports are no longer silent.

Athletes from a variety of sports have come out.
Athletes from a variety of sports have come out.

In November 1999 when we first launched Outsports there were no openly gay players in the NFL, NBA, NHL or Major League Baseball. Fast forward to November 2014 and there are are no openly gay players in the NFL, NBA, NHL or Major League Baseball.

That's a pretty depressing statistic, especially if you include other major pro sports like tennis, golf and auto racing. Michael Sam in the NFL and Jason Collins in the NBA briefly ended the shutout but neither is on a team today. And the picture is not much better in major women's sports. Yet the past 15 years have seen tremendous change and the normalization of the idea of gays in sports.

It was inconceivable 15 years ago that an openly gay NFL draftee would be seen live on ESPN kissing his boyfriend in what was the most electrifying gay sports moment since Outsports was around. The media had long since treated the issue of gays in sports as a serious element of coverage and Michael Sam coming out was a culmination of that.

While the landscape might seem barren at the pro level for out athletes, there is a stunning variety of sports and sports-related professions where men and women have come out on Outsports in the past 15 years:

Baseball
Rowing
Swimming
Diving
Water Polo
Strongman
NFL
College football
High school football
College baseball
Triathlon
College basketball
Pro basketball
Bowling
Mixed martial arts
Auto racing
Powerlifting
Bodybuilding
Team handball
Soccer
Tennis
Ultimate Frisbee
Cross Country
Gymnastics
Kayak
Equestrian
Aussie Rules Football
Gaelic football
Hockey
Rugby
Amateur wrestling
Pro wrestling
Speedskating, long track
Speedskating, short track
Snow boarding
Ski jumping
Lacrosse
volleyball
Track and field
Biathlon
Luge
Figure skating
Baseball coach
Basketball coach
Track coach
Tennis coach
Rowing coach
Swimming coach
Softball coach
Journalist
Cameraman
Referee
Sports executives
Athletic directors

Whew. That's quite a list and I might be missing some sports. What it tells me is that LGBT people are not waiting for the stars in their sports to come out. These people want to live an authentic life in sports and more and more than involves coming out to their team, coaches and administrators. We would often go weeks at Outsports without another person coming out, but now there happen with such regularity that we have to schedule their publication.

This is a testament to the wonderful athletes who no longer wish to remain silent. The culture has changed immensely in 15 years - gay marriage is now available to more than half the U.S. population. Every major men's pro sports league has a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation. Straight allies are everywhere, helping to create a comfort zone for their gay teammates.

In was not too long ago that pro athletes would refuse to even answer questions on having a gay teammate lest it be implied they were gay. Now, we've lost track of all the athletes who make pro-gay pronouncements in all sports. The increased number of LGBT athletes helped to put a face to what had been an abstract and hidden concept - every athlete who comes out helps to create an environment where being gay is not "tolerated" but embraced and sports as a whole benefit

I think that Outsports played a key role in this by giving voice to those who had long been marginalized. We were a safe space where athletes, coaches and administrators could know that their strories would be told the right way.

I have always thought that the primary mission of Outsports was to tell stories. We've been doing it for 15 years and will do it as long as there are people who want their stories told. Happy anniversary.