Most of the mainstream attention spent on the topic of LGBTQ inclusion in sports centers around when we will have a star openly gay active athlete in one of the four major male professional sports leagues. Never mind that the WNBA is filled with out superstars, or the ascension of the U.S. Women’s National Team, or that Robbie Rogers played four seasons with the LA Galaxy in the MLS after coming out, or Jason Collins’ decision to announce he’s gay at the tail end of his professional basketball career. While LGBTQ visibility has never been stronger, there remains a jarring lack of representation in our beloved professional sports institutions.
And that’s OK. Sure, it will be a seminal moment when, or if, a multi-time Super Bowl champion comes out of the closet. But focusing solely on the professional team sports arena — and more specifically, the male professional team sports arena — overlooks the extraordinary progress that’s been made in sports as a whole since Outsports launched 21 years ago. On this Jackie Robinson Day, let’s salute the young LGBTQ athletes who continue to lead the way towards acceptance, and inspire people on a daily basis.
Connecticut Sun head coach Curt Miller, who came out to us in 2015, told me recently one of his biggest regrets is not coming out earlier in his coaching career. “I wasted a lot of years not being a mentor and not being a role model for that next struggling young person who wanted to chase a career in sports,” he said.
Almost every day, we profile young LGBTQ athletes who selflessly choose to come out in a very public way for the sake of encouraging or motivating the aforementioned struggling young person. Just last week, we ran a first-person essay from college tennis player Greg Nelson, who was so tormented as a closeted freshman at Michigan State University, he was rushed to the hospital one night. There, an old high school teammate came to the rescue, and encouraged him to start his coming out story.
Stories like Nelson’s show those who are struggling they aren’t alone. Harrison Browne, the first out male trans professional hockey player, told me he’s chronicling his transition on social media for that exact reason.
“For me, it was important to see what a future would look like,” he said. “When I was 14 years old and I was just figured out what the term ‘transgender’ was, I didn’t know what that future looked like. ... So for me, sharing things about my transition physically and mentally is a way to give back to that, and to have any kid looking and wondering what a future of theirs could look like.”
On Trans Visibility Day, we published an essay from Andraya Yearwood of Connecticut, who is one of two girl sprinters in her state who’s been targeted by anti-trans forces in federal investigations and lawsuits. Nearly a dozen states are attempting to legalize discrimination against transgender student-athletes, including Idaho, which signed two bills into law at the end of last month — on Trans Visibility Day.
Trans student-athletes who compete in the face of bigotry are far more courageous than their bigoted detractors. They exist all over the country, and perhaps even in your community.
LGBTQ athletes are certainly prevalent on the world stage. We had a record-setting 18 out LGBTQ athletes in the 2018 Olympics; we’ve seen the first out trans man compete in an Olympic trial alongside other men; we’ve witnessed Megan Rapinoe become an international sensation. Look no further than the iconic five rings to see how LGBTQ athletes can dominate.
At this point, I am tired of waiting for the star NFL QB to come out of the closet. If you are looking for a story of gridiron perseverance, read about Miami running back TJ Callan, who played two seasons with the Hurricanes despite enduring incessant homophobic taunts from teammates and coaches. In opting to tell his story, Callan says he wants to be part of the solution, and open the eyes of coaches and administrators about the impact a homophobic environment can have on an athlete.
It is inevitable we will see more openly gay professional athletes. Perhaps we will see out gay defensive tackle Scott Frantz on an NFL roster this fall, provided the season starts on time. The wave of young athletes coming out through high school and college guarantees we will only see more representation at all athletic levels.
Life-altering societal movements are often led by the young. LGBTQ representation in sports is no different.