Elena Delle Donne is one of of the best female basketball players in the world, a star in the WNBA and a big reason Team USA won Olympic gold this year. But it was coming out publicly this summer that earns her our Female Hero of the Year award.
There is no male equivalent to out stars like Delle Donne and fellow WNBA superstar Brittney Griner. For comparison, imagine if someone like a Steph Curry and LeBron James were gay. So, it's important when players at the top of their game come out.
In fact, there were four Team USA players who were out: Delle Donne, Griner, Seimone Augustus and Angel McCoughtry. Griner was Outsports’ Athlete of the Year in 2014. Fellow WNBA player Layshia Clarendon was our 2015 Hero of the Year.
Delle Donne came out in a profile in Vogue this summer as being in a same-sex relationship with her fiancee, Amanda Clifton. Their relationship was an open secret in Chicago, where Delle Donne plays, and the couple had been out on social media. But the Vogue article was the first time she publicly declared being in a same-sex relationship.
When Chicago Tribune reporter Chris Hine (himself gay) spoke with Delle Donne at the Olympics, she said: "I decided I'm not at all going to hide anything. The biggest thing is respecting Amanda's privacy as well. She's not on the stage, she doesn't need to be interviewed and I don't want her to have to feel that way. ... It's not a coming out article or anything. I've been with her for a very long time now and people who are close to me know that and that's that."
Every LGBT person in sports coming out is important, but having the stars being open proves that being open and being a star are not incompatible. Delle Donne proves that.
Ryan LaVigne (Lewis & Clark women's rowing) and Chloe Anderson (UC Santa Cruz women's volleyball). They both came out publicly as transgender and in 2016 competed in the NCAA. They are the only male-to-female publicly out transgender NCAA athletes we know of.
Rafaela Silva. The Brazilan judoka who won her country’s first gold medal at the Rio Olympics. She became a national hero and has had a lesbian partner of three years who she credited with helping her succeed.