Sue Bird (10) during the first half of the 2022 WNBA All Star Game. | David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe recently sat down for a conversation with sports journalist Pablo Torre for an episode of his podcast.

During the conversation, Bird opened up about her early days in the WNBA — where she played for 21 seasons — and being told by people around her to not come out publicly as gay or lesbian, even though that’s how she was living her life.

From the conversation:

“It was basically told to me that the only way I was going to have success from a marketing standpoint is to really sell this straight girl next door. ‘you have the ‘look.’’ These were things that were told to me. At 21, I was afraid of all of it. I openly admit this. The way I feel now about all of those conversations, I have opinions, I have thoughts, I have no problem talking about them publicly. But at 21 I was afraid.

“And now you’re telling me that my career might not take off? So I just had it in me that this wasn’t something I’d share publicly, even though I was living my life that way.”

When Bird entered the league in 2002, this was absolutely the mentality of a lot — but not all — people across the WNBA: Fear of too many lesbians at or in the game. Former Orlando Magic executive Adam Lippard told Outsports last year of being in a WNBA meeting and hearing concerns about this. Outsports has heard other stories like it over the years.

So it’s not too surprising that someone, or a group of people, would say this to Bird in 2002, as she was the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft that year. Though it is, of course, horribly disappointing.

Thankfully, Bird found her way out of the closet in a public way in 2017, revealing her relationship with Rapinoe. Today, about a quarter of the league is publicly out as LGBTQ, including some coaches. Yet undoubtedly, some women are being given the same advice Bird was given over 20 years ago.

If people around Bird were telling her that at the time — when there were some publicly out players in the league — imagine what gay and bi players in the NBA have been told over the years about coming out. Only one NBA player — Jason Collins — has been publicly out while playing. That was a decade ago.

A common question we get at Outsports is about “why there aren’t more (or, right now, any) publicly out men in any of the Big Five.” For years I’ve pointed to agents, managers and others in and around the marketing of professional athletes.

I don’t think a fear of athletes coming out is particularly strong in the NBA front office or its teams.

I do think many agents, managers and others around the business of individual athletes absolutely do have a fear of losing some opportunities. Not all by any stretch, as I have known some extremely thoughtful, caring agents over the years. Absolutley.

Yet some gay and bi athletes in the NBA, as well as the other big men’s sports leagues, absolutely have agents and managers who are telling them to stay in the closet. We know for a fact that agents have told gay athletes to stay in the closet.

That Bird was told this very thing in the WNBA — albeit over 20 years ago in a league where that kind of advice is probably scarce today — speaks volumes. Even at the time, people around women’s sports knew that a large percentage of players identified as gay, lesbian or bi.

If a league with several publicly out athletes at the time has athletes being told to stay in the closet, you can bet that’s happening across men’s sports today where there are zero publicly out athletes in the Big Five sports.

Don't forget to share: