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Why 'The Gay Athlete' should be Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year

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No individual or group of people transformed the conversation around sports - and dominated headlines - for all of 2014 like LGBT people in sports.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

No story dominated the sports year from January to December like conversations of LGBT issues in sports, and no one embodies the year of 2014 in sports like gay athletes. No individual or group of people deserves to be named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year more than The Gay Athlete.

In January, Conner Mertens made headlines when he came out publicly, making him the first publicly out LGBT active college football player. He went on to finish second on the team in scoring and second in the conference in field goal percentage - all as a freshman.

February was a seminal month for the movement, with the coming out of Michael SamJason Collins' first NBA gameafter coming out and the Winter Olympics that made LGBT issues a centerpiece of our national sports conversation. Ireen Wust, the out Dutch speedskater, led all athletes with five medals.

Throughout the year Olympic athletes stood proud, including luger John Fennellrower Robbie Manson and gymnast Rosie Cossar.

April saw UMass shooting guard Derrick Gordon come out as the first gay male ever to do so in Div. 1 football, baseball, basketball or hockey. TCU assistant athletic director Drew Martin turned heads days later by talking about his engagement. Martin's coming out sparked conversation in the South - like with the two gay volleyball players at Erskine College - and in religious, Christian quarters - like Catholic high school coach Nate Alsfon - that was taken up at the Finding Common Ground think tank, hosted at the NCAA by the LGBT Sports Coalition (to which Nike has committed up to $500k) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Within five days in May, Michael Sam was drafted and kissed. Sam's story resonated the entire year as he won ESPN's prestigious Arthur Ashe Courage Award, entered training camp, played in his first preseason game, recorded his first sack, was cut, was signed, and then was cut again. His story dominated the sports year and helped drive and shift conversation in the NFL. I was at the owners' meeting in March - I saw his effects on the behind-close-doors conversations in the league. Sam has been nominated publicly for the award.

Brittney Griner had a season for the ages in the WNBA. She set the league's all-time single-season record for blocked shots, was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year and won the WNBA title with the Phoenix Mercury.

Robbie Rogers' year was extraordinary. Muddling through injury and demotion in the first half of the Major League Soccer season, Rogers changed positions and performed so well he had some talking about a spot for him on the US Men's National Team. He and the Los Angeles Galaxy play for the MLS Cup on Sunday. Both Griner and Rogers also released compelling memoirs.

In addition to the headlines, there was a constant stream of athletes coming out publicly: College baseball player Chandler WhitneyUniv. of Arizona swimmer Lauren NeidighNCAA shotput champion Tina HillmanChapman Univ. defensive end Mitch Eby. All told, over 100 LGBT athletes came out publicly this year, by far the most ever.

Other non-athletes came out in sports too, including Seattle Storm executive Kenny DowKansas City Royals executive Matt Schulte, and most recently MLB umpire Dale Scott.

Before the end of 2014...more are coming. More are coming.

No one - and by that I mean no person or collection of people - affected sports in 2014 the way these LGBT people in sports dominated headlines and changed conversations from January to December. A year ago children were growing up in a world where you couldn't be a gay umpire, NFL player or Major League Soccer champion. These brave men and women changed all of that in one defining year.

This year there is only one perfect Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year: The Gay Athlete.