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5 Out Athletes Who Have Made Headlines In 2018

Sports may be the final frontier for LGBT representation, but that’s changing one athlete at a time…

The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang made headlines earlier this year for including a record number of 15 openly LGBT athletes. Considering that the total number of athletes who competed in the Olympics this year was just under 3,000, 15 (less than one per cent) out athletes is an incredibly small number. Chances are, there were more LGBT athletes competing, but they weren’t out at the time. Some might not have wanted their sexuality to overshadow their performance at the Games, which is understandable, but others might be in the closet because of the stigma that still hangs over athletes who identify as part of the LGBT community.

Sports is considered by many to be the final frontier when it comes to LGBT representation and acceptance. For example, we have yet to see an openly gay athlete play in a regular season NFL game. Michael Sam was the first openly gay player to be drafted (in 2014), but he only played in the preseason, and a handful of other players came out after retirement. (The hockey world is no better: see our cover September/October 2018 story on Brock McGillis.) There’s also a huge disparity between the number of out gay male athletes and out gay female athletes. The WNBA has had more current and former players come out publicly than all of the Big Five men’s leagues in North America combined. (The Big Five leagues are comprised of the NHL, NBA, NFL, MLB and MSL, and although there have been plenty of gay players, the vast majority of them came out publicly after their career was over.)

The culture of heteronormativity in sports is still very prevalent but, luckily, more and more prominent LGBT athletes are choosing to step out of the shadows. Here are a few LGBT athletes who are out, proud, and paving the way for progress in 2018.

Eric Radford
Canadian figure skater Eric Radford made history at the PyeongChang Olympics by becoming the first out gay male athlete to ever win a gold medal at the Winter Games. He and his skating partner, Meagan Duhamel, won gold in the team figure skating event. Radford and Duhamel also won the bronze medal in the pairs free skating event, making Radford the first gay male athlete to win multiple medals in a single Games.

“I have had some really touching messages from people who are still in the closet, and they said that I’ve really inspired them, and helped them to try to accept themselves more.… That’s incredible,” Radford told The Globe and Mail after his gold medal win. On coming out in 2014, Radford told Sportsnet, “I realized that by speaking out, I could make a difference. No other gay figure skater had come out at the height of his career. I realized that the only way to normalize it was to speak out.” Radford is now retired from professional figure skating, but he made sure he went out on the highest note possible – by inspiring the next generation of athletes to be proud of who they are.

Gus Kenworthy
US skier Gus Kenworthy won the silver medal in men’s slopestyle at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, and also made headlines for bringing attention to the stray dog problem there. He came out as gay in 2015, and this past Olympics in PyeongChang he made even bigger headlines. Before his qualifying run in men’s slopestyle, Kenworthy’s boyfriend, actor Matthew Wilkas, kissed him and it was broadcast on live TV. The kiss was praised as being a huge moment for the visibility of LGBT athletes, and Kenworthy couldn’t agree more. “This was actually the Olympic experience I was hoping for,” he told CNN. “I’m leaving here more fulfilled without a medal than I did at the last Games with one.”

Since the Olympics, Kenworthy has been on a number of magazine covers, including Gay Times and Attitude, not to mention his bromance-inspired Out cover with Adam Rippon. Moving forward, Kenworthy promisesto continue to be an outspoken advocate of LGBT rights and a much-needed role model for young, gay athletes.

Adam Rippon
US figure skater Adam Rippon is arguably one of the biggest breakout stars of the PyeongChang Olympics. With his bronze medal win in the team figure skating event (the same event where Eric Radford won gold), Rippon became the first-ever gay US male athlete to win a medal at the Winter Games. After the Olympics, Rippon competed on – and won – the 26th season of Dancing with the Stars. He also made headlines for his red carpet appearance at the 90th Academy Awards, thanks to his outfit of choice – a Moschino-designed harness. To top it all off, Time named him one of their 100 Most Influential People of 2018 – and his blurb was written by Cher.

Perhaps one of his most outspoken moments came just before the Olympics in an interview with GQ. Rippon expressed his disappointment that US Vice President Mike Pence would be leading the US delegation for the opening ceremony in PyeongChang. He even turned down a chance to meet Pence, saying, “Here’s the thing: I have nothing to say to him. I’m very lucky that Mike Pence has had little to no effect on my life. If we were to meet, I would want to bring people whose lives have been changed by legislation he has pushed. As a member of the LGBT community, I want to speak out, because he’s spoken about people like me.”

Sue Bird
Israeli-American pro basketball player Sue Bird, was a first overall pick in the 2002 WNBA draft. She has won two WNBA championships and four Olympic gold medals, and has been on nine WNBA All-Star teams. She currently plays point guard for the Seattle Storm, where she has been for her entire career with the WNBA. Although she has been one of the league’s most successful players to date, she didn’t come out publicly as a lesbian until 2017.

In an interview with ESPNW, Bird said, “I’m gay. Megan’s my girlfriend.… These aren’t secrets to people who know me. I think people have this assumption that if you’re not talking about it, you must be hiding it, like it’s this secret. That was never the case for me.” The Megan she refers to is Megan Rapinoe, a midfielder for Seattle Reign FC. Together, Bird and Rapinoe were the first same-sex couple to appear on the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue published earlier this year.

Collin Martin
Minnesota United midfielder Collin Martin, 23, is currently the only active gay male athlete in any of the Big Five leagues. In July, he became the third publicly gay man to play during the regular season in one of the men’s Big Five leagues, in a game against Toronto FC. (Before him were the NBA’s Jason Collins and the MLS’s Robbie Rogers.)

Martin came out on Twitter on June 29, 2018, hours before his club hosted its “Pride Match” in support of the LGBTQ+ community. “Today, I’m proud that my entire team and the management of Minnesota United know that I am gay,” Martin wrote. “I have received only kindness and acceptance from everyone in Major League Soccer and that has made the decision to come out publicly that much easier.”

COURTNEY HARDWICK is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Her work has appeared online at AmongMen, Complex Canada, Elle Canada and TheBolde.


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    Richard / 19 April 2019

    Brian Boitano was not out at the time, but he won a gold medal in ’88. Dick Button won gold in ’48 and ’52. There were other US figure skating medallists, but Rippon was a long way from being the first.

    Dominick Caron / 04 September 2018



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