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10 awesome LGBT athletes

Apr 29, 2013

NBA star Jason Collins made headlines on Monday for coming out as the first openly gay male athlete to be an active player in one of North America’s four major sports leagues. Which is freaking awesome. As a tribute, let’s take a look at some of the LGBT pioneers in American athletics.

1. Billie Jean King

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Billie Jean King, the former Grand Slam tennis player who famously beat Bobby Riggs in the famous “Battle of The Sexes” games, was the first prominent American professional athlete to be openly gay while playing. While she had been in a relationship with her secretary, Marilyn Barnett, since 1968, her sexuality didn’t come to light until 1981. Barnett filed a palimony suit against her after they broke up. Since then, she has been an active and ardent supporter of LGBT causes.

2. Martina Navratilova

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Another noted tennis player, Martina Navratilova came out (voluntarily) in 1981, the same year that King was outed. In 1992, she took part in a lawsuit against the state of Colorado for a ballot proposition that would have legalized discrimination against LGBT people. She was the recipient of the Human Rights Campaign’s National Equality Award in 2000.

3. Glenn Burke

glenn burke 10 awesome LGBT athletes

They can’t ever say now that a gay man can’t play in the majors, because I’m a gay man and I made it.” – Glenn Burke

Though he didn’t make it public until 1982, four years after he retired from professional baseball, Glenn Burke is the first (and only) professional baseball player known to have come out to his coach and teammates, and the first to come out publicly. And if that wasn’t cool enough, Burke and his Dodgers teammate Dusty Baker are credited with inventing the high five.

Sadly, after his retirement from baseball, Burke developed a serious cocaine problem which pretty much destroyed any chance he had of returning to the sport. He died from AIDS complications in 1995, at age 42.

4. David Kopay

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In 1975, David Kopay became the first former NFL player to come out of the closet. Which was a pretty big deal for 1975– only ix years after Stonewall. He later revealed that he had a brief affair with Redskins player Jerry Smith, who died of AIDS in 1986 without ever coming out of the closet.

5. Sheryl Swoopes

swoopes 10 awesome LGBT athletes

Sheryl Swoopes, often referred to as the “female Michael Jordan” was the very first player signed to the WNBA when it was first created. After having been married to her high school sweetheart for four years, Swoopes came out as gay when she started a relationship with former WNBA player and coach Alisa Scott.

6. John Amaechi

 10 awesome LGBT athletes

In 2007, former Orlando Magic player John Amaechi became the first former NBA player to come out of the closet. He is now a prominent sports announcer in England.

7. Renée Richards

bpics richards 10 awesome LGBT athletes

Born Richard Raskind in 1934, this tennis star underwent sex-reassignment surgery and changed her name to Renée Richards. Although originally barred from competing in the 1976 U.S. Open as a woman, Richards successfully sued the United States Tennis Association in a landmark New York Supreme Court decision for trans rights. She went on to compete in professional tennis from 1977-1981, and later coached Martina Navratilova.

8. Greg Louganis

diving a 10 awesome LGBT athletes

Ever since coming out as both gay and HIV positive in 1988, two-time Olympic gold medalist diver Greg Louganis has been an awesome advocate for gay rights and AIDS awareness. Oh, and A.C. Slater played him in a his movie biopic, which is awesome.

9. Brendan Burke

 10 awesome LGBT athletes

Brendan Burke was a goalie and student manager for the Miami University RedHawks men’s ice hockey team. He made headlines for coming out in 2009 and advocating against homophobia in professional team sports, but tragically died in an automobile accident in 2010. His death was the catalyst for the “You Can Play” project, which campaigns against homophobia in sports.

10. Johnny Weir

First of all, HOW IS JOHNNY WEIR NOT MY BEST FRIEND? I think he is amazing! I like to think that people like Weir are the future of everything. Although for a long time he declined to comment on his sexuality, because he didn’t think it had anything to do with his sport, he officially came out in 2011, citing a string of recent gay youth suicide as his impetus. He married his super handsome boyfriend later that year. Also, he is seriously the most adorable human, and I love him.


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