Out in Sports: Athletes Come Out for Equality

LGBTQ visibility has increased in sports thanks in large part to athletes, coaches and staff who have come out over the last several years.

This summer, at least 42 openly lesbian, gay and bisexual participants competed at the Rio Olympics in Brazil – setting a record for the number of out athletes at the world’s premier sporting event. At least a dozen out athletes also competed in the Paralympics in Rio. Additionally, professional sports leagues including the NBA, as well as major collegiate  governing bodies like the NCAA and the ACC, are taking strong stands for LGBTQ inclusion and equality.

Ahead of National Coming Out Day, celebrated annually on Oct. 11, HRC is highlighting people in sports who have made the brave decision to come out within the last year, and have spoken proudly about who they are, both on and off the field of competition.

Elena Delle Donne
WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne became engaged to former collegiate teammate Amanda Clifton this summer.

Clifton shared a photo on her Instagram page of the couple’s dog with a sign that read, “Marry Me??” She captioned the photo, “I obviously said yes!”

While shying away from providing too many details about her dating life in the past, Delle Donne recently began opening up more by sharing photos of Clifton on her social media accounts.

“I’ve grown up in a family where I have the most unique sister in the world and we’ve always been taught to celebrate uniqueness,” Delle Donne said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune in August. “It was easy for me to be who I am and hopefully others can be who they are as well.”

Bill Kennedy
In December 2015, following disturbing homophobic slurs made by Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo, NBA veteran referee Bill Kennedy came out publicly as gay.

“I am proud to be an NBA referee and I am proud to be a gay man,” Kennedy told Yahoo Sports. “I am following in the footsteps of others who have self-identified in the hopes that will send a message to young men and women in sports that you must allow no one to make you feel ashamed of who you are.”

The NBA suspended Rondo, and league commissioner Adam Silver delivered a statement in support of Kennedy to Yahoo Sports.

“I wholeheartedly support Bill’s decision to live his life proudly and openly,” Silver said. “While our league has made great progress, our work continues to ensure that everyone is treated with respect and dignity.”

Gus Kenworthy
Dubbed one of the best freeskiers in the world, Gus Kenworthy came out as gay in an interview with ESPN The Magazine. A 2014 Olympic silver medalist, Kenworthy shared the interview in a heartfelt Facebook post.

“I am gay. Wow, it feels good to write those words. For most of my life, I’ve been afraid to embrace the truth about myself. Recently though, I’ve gotten to the point where the pain of holding onto the lie is greater than the fear of letting go, and I’m very proud to finally be letting my guard down,” Kenworthy shared.

Following the announcement, U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association president Tiger Shaw stood in solidarity with Kenworthy saying, “We admire Gus for having the strength to tell the world who he is as a person, and paving the way for others to do the same.”

Brian Anderson
Professional skateboarder Brian Anderson came out as gay in an interview with VICE Sports in September.

“My name is Brian Anderson and I am a professional skateboarder, and we are here to talk about the fact that I am gay,” Anderson said.

Anderson confessed that he thought being gay was something dangerous to talk about because of the slurs he heard growing up, so he kept it in for quite some time. His friends in the skating world, however, found him to the perfect example to effect change and represent the LGBTQ community in skating.

A VICE staffer asked fellow pro skateboarder Alex Olson, “So Brian’s basically your favorite skater, and then you find out he’s gay,” to which Olson jumped in and replied, “And it just made me like him him even more. I was like, ‘Oh, amazing!’ It makes him that much cooler.”

“I think of how I felt when I was younger and, you know, totally scared,” Anderson said. “A lof of these kids that don’t have hope are really scared to death. Hearing what I went through and to know how everything got better for me and I got a lot happier and felt more free, and didn’t have all of the shame buried inside my body, you become a happier person. So to convey that message was really important to me.”

Stefanie Dolson
WNBA All-Star Stefanie Dolson discussed her decision to come out in a piece she wrote for ESPN The Magazine’s WNBA Issue in May. Dolson, who came out through a social media post, said she made the decision because she had to be true to herself as well as her fans.

“Before posting, I thought about what people might say because this photo made it clear that we’re together, but then I realized that the reactions of others didn’t matter to me,” Dolson wrote. “I wanted people who are fans and supporters to know who I really am.”

She also noted that her generation’s ever-growing comfortability with sexuality and being open has taught her that gender comes second to someone’s personality.

“There are a lot of girls who struggle being who they are. We need people who are out so that those girls know it’s OK to be themselves, regardless of stereotypes,” wrote Dolson. “I just am who I am. And I’m happy.”

Whether it’s for the first time ever or the first time today, coming out can be an arduous journey. It is also a brave decision to live openly and authentically. For more information and resources on coming out and National Coming Out Day, visit HRC’s Coming Out Center and follow the hashtag #ComingOut.