Team USA softball star Haylie McCleney thought she would be preparing to represent her country in Tokyo this summer. Then she was planning to wed her longtime girlfriend, whom she met years ago while playing softball, when they were both 17 years of age. The coronavirus pandemic, unfortunately, has upended both of those plans — at least for now. But McCleney is not letting the summer go to waste. She’s decided to publicly come out, and hopes to be a role model for other young LGBTQ athletes.
In a recent profile on teamusa.org, McCleney recounts her engagement story. She met her partner, Kylee Hanson, on the diamond, and they immediately became friends. In due time, their relationship evolved, and both girls developed romantic feelings for each other. For McCleney, who hails from small-town Alabama, the prospect of telling her friends and family about her sexuality was daunting. While the conversations weren’t easy, McCleney says they were ultimately embraced, She knows that isn’t always the norm.
“I feel very, very lucky to have had a conservative upbringing and still be fully loved and accepted,” she told journalist Karen Price.
McCleney excelled at the University of Alabama, where she was a four-time All-American and earned three First Team All-SEC honors for her softball excellence. The left-handed hitting outfielder finished her collegiate career with an incredible .447 batting average, 313 hits and 279 runs scored. She also socked 27 home runs in four seasons.
With numbers like that, it isn’t surprising McCleney decided to keep playing softball after graduating. She was slated to play for Team USA this summer, as softball was supposed to return to the Olympics for the first time in 12 years. Team USA was a powerhouse in softball, winning three consecutive Olympic gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004.
Now, McCleney is preparing for Summer 2021. In the meantime, she’s playing professionally, and making strong stands for social change. McCleney has defected from the Scrap Yard Dawgs of Conroe, Tex., after the team’s general manager sent out a tweet applauding players standing for the national anthem, and tagging President Donald Trump.
Along with 11 Team USA members, McCleney plans to play under the moniker This Is Us Softball.
As an openly gay woman from the Deep South, McCleney is used to taking strong stands in her life. She says she’s learned disruption is necessary in order to enact change.
“As human beings it’s our nature, especially as females, to want to please everyone, but we have to come to terms with the fact that what pleases everyone is not necessarily always what is right,” she said. “To be a leader and an advocate you have to push peoples’ buttons on certain things and certain issues. You have to be vocal about what you believe because you won’t help anyone being on the fence or hiding. ... It was a process for me, but I’m at the point now where my life is my life, I’m with the love of my life, I’m living my best life every day with her by my side and love it or hate it, I don’t care because I’m over-the-moon happy.”
McCleney and Henson recently purchased their own home together, staking out a beachfront property in Jupiter, Fla. Though their wedding has also been postponed, they’re enjoying the engagement life. A devout Christian, she says she now feels more loved by God than ever before.
“Now I’m at a point in my life where I’ve accepted myself because God has accepted me, and I feel very strongly about that,” she said. “I feel more loved by God now as a member of the LGBTQ community than I ever did before, which is really, really awesome. I think that faith process really helped me have difficult conversations with my family and friends.”