When we started to compile a list of the most powerful and influential out LGBTQ people in sports, we figured we’d be lucky to get a top 40.
As we researched, the goal then became a top 50. Then, just as quickly as we hit 50 we were faced with a dilemma: We were going to have to stop at 100 people and leave some deserving names off the list.
In the end, we came up with about 250 out LGBTQ people with power and influence in all level of sports in the United States — athletes, coaches, administrators, journalists, referees, executives and even team owners — for a list we winnowed down to 100.
We present the Outsports Power 100.
“When I first came out, when I first started working in sports, even before I publicly came out, I never would have envisioned a day where there would be so many people like me, who were able to make a profession in sports,” said Erik Braverman, a Los Angeles Dodgers senior vice president who launched one of the most impressive Pride Nights in sports and is in our top 10.
“What is heartening to see is what we have always known, that there were others like us in our industry,” Braverman said. “But we’ve all sort of been living in our invisible pockets and our professional closets. And now all these years later, we actually feel like not only is it OK to be our authentic selves, but across leagues they are recognizing the power of the community and understanding that it isn’t just a community where you can pander for dollars, but you can have a genuine connection with.”
The list is expansive in its breadth and depth. Women hold most of the spots and are seven of our top 10. Plus there are transgender and nonbinary people.
Represented on the list are every major pro-sports league in the United States: NFL, NBA, WNBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, NHL, NWSL, PHF, NCAA, UFC, NASCAR, PGA, plus pro tennis, skiing-snowboarding and the Olympics, along with journalists and executives in sports media.
“This is going to be so important to see so many people in so many jobs, and the most important thing is they are being their authentic selves,” said Billie Jean King, who along with her wife, Ilana Kloss, are No. 1 on the list. “You’re going to help so many people, and all of these other media outlets, wake up.”
Listing some of the people who did not crack the top 100 highlights the tough choices we made. Just missing were people like Christina Jefferson, the director of DEI for the San Francisco 49ers; David Baggs, senior director of sales for the Boston Red Sox; Dale Scott, a former MLB umpire and the only one to ever be openly gay; Joanna Harper, a researcher on trans athletes; Meghan Duggan, a gold-medal Olympic hockey player and director of player development for the New Jersey Devils; and many others.
Michael Sam isn’t on the list either, which shows the fluidity of such rankings. Had this been done in 2014, he possibly would have been No. 1. This was after Sam was the first out gay player drafted in the NFL and before the start of training camp. While Sam’s story has been powerful for LGBTQ inclusion in sports, he has been out of football in the United States for years.
We also know the list will change each year. For example, trans boxer Patricio Manuel could be a possibility if he keeps rising in the rankings; Luke Prokop if he becomes the first gay NHL player; or Matt Lynch, who this fall will be the only out gay coach in men’s college basketball. In addition, there are people on no one’s radar screen who could burst into prominence (think Carl Nassib in 2021).
In compiling the list, Outsports consulted with LGBTQ people in sports in a variety of jobs, in addition to executives across pro sports and the sports media, to craft our best definition of power. We then crunched some variables to come up with the final list. The list is confined to people in the U.S.
We used a system that assigned points based on criteria such as job title; league, conference or media affiliation; social media influence; LGBTQ advocacy; whether an athlete was current or former and how many titles they have won. We used this system to get a ranking that we then refined.
People like soccer star Megan Rapinoe and Nassib were slam dunks. Others might be less known to the public, but no less powerful. One example is George Cheeks. As president and chief executive officer of CBS entertainment group, Cheeks oversees all content for the multimedia company, including negotiating such valuable properties as the NFL.
Cheeks’ power comes from his influence in corporate media as an openly gay man. For others, like Olympians Adam Rippon and Gus Kenworthy, their power comes not only from their success in sports but in their continued media visibility and social media influence advocating for LGBTQ issues.
“It’s a lot of responsibility, but a lot of responsibility we’re willing to take,” two-time World Cup soccer champion Ali Krieger said about what it means to have power and influence as an out LGBTQ person in sports. “If we don’t fight for our community and ourselves, who will? It’s inspiring to use and motivating to continue showing up. it’s a job we’ve taken on just being ourselves. and we’ll continue to speak on it and be visible.”
No two people’s lists will be the same. Even among the staff at Outsports — all of whom had a voice in the list and rankings — none of us would agree entirely.
We are certain that people will quibble with the list and tell us we overlooked deserving people, and we might have (you can leave a comment below to consider for next year or email us, email@example.com).
Yet the most important message of this project is that it exists, and that our collective LGBTQ voices in American sports go so much further than any of us could have imagined.
This 2023 Outsports Power 100 list is our best-faith effort in honoring those out people in sports who are making a difference, and we know future years will see new names. That’s exciting.