At this point, we’ve grown accustomed to the WNBA setting the example for the rest of the sports world when it comes to LGBTQ barrier breakers. They are — quite literally — the Candace Parker and Sue Bird of inclusive sports leagues.
But even knowing that, sometimes the W still finds more reasons to make us celebrate.
When the Connecticut Sun defeated the Chicago Sky in a winner-take-all Game 5 semifinal, it marked the second time Head Coach Curt Miller had led them to the WNBA Finals.
Currently down two games to none, if the Sun were to pull off a miracle comeback to defeat the Las Vegas Aces, Miller would pull off an equally legendary feat: the first championship for a publicly out gay male head coach in any major sport anywhere in the world.
There’s no way to understate this: it would be a pivotal moment in LGBTQ sports history.
Every time an out athlete or coach breaks through a glass ceiling, we justifiably celebrate them for who they are. Because our community has been so historically marginalized, that’s always first and foremost in our minds.
But that’s also balanced by the fact that the sports world is a ruthless results-driven business. It’s the only place where you’re more likely to hear the question “What have you done for me lately?” than a Janet Jackson drag revue.
Miller already broke through one barrier when he was named Sun Head Coach, becoming the first publicly out gay man to coach a professional team in North America. But if he were to win a WNBA title, that would earn him a unique place in the pantheon of sports history.
With a title in hand, Miller would prove to the entire sports world that a gay head coach is every bit as capable of uniting and leading a championship roster as his straight counterparts. And he would make it a little bit easier for other gay prospective coaches to follow in his footsteps and find jobs themselves.
It should already be that way. In fact, a good argument can be made that Miller has already demonstrated that a gay coach has what it takes by taking the Sun to the Finals twice in four years.
But with pro sports being the kind of industry it is, sometimes you have to show the powers that be that doing the right thing can pay off on the court just as much as it does karmically. After all, no team has ever raised a banner for achieving nirvana.
And let’s face it, as part of the First Take generation, we’re living in a time of profoundly terrible sports opinion-makers whose volume is inversely proportional to their coherence. Just check some of the Twitter replies anytime someone from the LGBTQ sports community is celebrated on social media.
If Miller wins that elusive championship, he’ll permanently have an answer for anyone who would claim that he’s being honored only for his sexuality. Nothing shuts up a hot sports take better than pointing to your ring finger.
Even if Miller and the Sun fall short, Team LGBTQ will still emerge triumphant, as Aces head coach Becky Hammon has posted photos celebrating her partner and family on her Instagram account.
An Aces victory would also be quite an achievement, as Hammon is gunning to win a championship to cap off her first year as a WNBA head coach.
Regardless of which leader gets doused in champagne at the end, the 2022 WNBA Finals will be regarded as a triumph for our community’s visibility.
Miller himself knows the importance of visibility for other gay men looking to coach professional sports.
“One of the things that made it scary for me to be out was I didn’t see that gay male successful coach,” he explained to Outsports’ Alex Reimer on The Sports Kiki podcast. “So now, I hope I can be a trailblazer and people see me having success coaching on the sidelines for multiple decades.”
Thanks to his leadership of the Sun, Miller has become that successful coach that he wanted to see and he has a chance to put his name in the history books in the best possible way. If he and Connecticut can somehow come back to take home the trophy, his story will be amplified to a whole new level and he’ll inspire many others in our community to follow in his footsteps.
And when anyone asks, “Yeah but can a gay head coach really lead a pro sports team,” all you’ll have to do is show them his picture.