Howard Bragman knows a thing or two about coming out publicly.
The revered publicist, who’s gay himself, has been helping people come out publicly for over 30 years, including ‘Family Ties’ star Meredith Baxter as well as Dick Sargent from ‘Bewitched.’
- NFL player Esera Tuaolo
- WNBA superstar Sheryl Swoopes
- NBA player John Amaechi
- Golfer Rosie Jones
- NFL player Michael Sam
Over the years, Bragman has learned a thing — or 22 — about coming out publicly. Ahead of National Coming Out Day, we caught up with him and asked for his top tips for athletes to consider before sharing their truth with the world.
He gave us three:
1) Tell your family, closest friends and colleagues first
Bragman: “Do your groundwork first. Before you come out make sure you have dealt with your family, your work and the important aspects of your life so when you come out it’s not a surprise for them. Before you come out publicly it’s wise to come out privately. It lets you test the waters, and it’s simply being kind to the people closest to you.”
Bragman recalls working with one athlete who had not told their family they were coming out publicly. Hours before a series of scheduled interviews and conversations, their mother found out and had a really bad reaction, which threw off their roll-out plan.
When a high school or college athlete wants to share their story on Outsports, we always ask them if they are out to their family. I personally won’t run a story unless they are — The possible ramifications to the athlete and their family are just too harmful to toy with.
Getting ahead of personal reactions like that from family can help make everything go more smoothly.
2) Do it your way
Bragman: “Do it in a way that’s authentic to you. Everybody does it in their own time frame, for their own reasons and in their own way. Some people do it with a tweet, some people do it on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The only right answer is the answer that’s right for you.”
Bragman pointed to a couple of examples, including that of Jason Collins on the cover of SI, which he said was the perfect publication and the perfect venue for the moment. Collins was the first active athlete in the Big Four — NBA, NFL, MLB & NHL — to come out publicly; Robbie Rogers had come out in MLS a couple months earlier and then retired.
Rogers had chosen a different path, a late-night blog post.
Bragman also referred to the option of a simple Instagram post of the athlete holding their partner’s hand. That in itself can be a powerful statement.
There are so many ways to share that initial public message that an athlete is gay, and the way they should do it is simply the way that feels best for them.
“Think about how you’re presenting yourself to the public, and do it a way that’s authentic, whatever is right for you.”
3) Don’t underestimate what a huge moment this is for you
Bragman: “You’re apprehensive. You’re scared. You’ve kept this secret for years. That’s all normal. Whoever you are, I promise two things. One, your life will be in part defined by the before and after you come out. Even in 2020 — we have the head of Apple and Senators who are gay — this is still you and there are still places in society where we don’t have a lot of out LGBTQ people. It’s still a big deal and don’t let anybody downplay it for you. And two, you’ll feel better after. I can’t think of anyone who didn’t feel better after they came out, didn’t feel the weight of the world was lifted.”
Coming out is defined for so many by both the pre-announcement fear and the post-announcement relief. All of that is valid, and all of us have gone through it.
For athletes — particularly in pro sports — there’s a whole added layer of widespread public reaction. You’re right to take the decision-making and the process seriously. And, like mentioned above, take your time to make sure the message reflects who you are.
For his part, Bragman is always ready to help any athlete struggling with figuring out the best way to come out.
“I’m here. I’m always ready to talk with anyone who needs advice or insights. I’m happy to hop on the phone and discuss their situation confidentially and give them the best advice I can give for them.”