Today, Oct. 11, is National Coming Out Day, a day for LGBT people to stand up and be counted. It's a perfect time to remind everyone that gay and lesbian athletes are part of the community of people making their voices heard and being proud.
The perception is that few athletes are out, and that this owes to the fact that no active player is out in professional male team sports in North America, to which so much attention is paid. But in reviewing the Outsports archives since last Coming Out Day, I have found 30 male and female athletes who have come out (or were previously out and decided to tell their story publicly). The list is impressive and includes people from football, basketball, boxing, mixed martial arts, wrestling, soccer, rugby, Australian football, gymnastics, skiing, volleyball, ice hockey, field hockey, tennis, and even poker.
Some came out while still active, others after their careers ended, but all are proud and willing to tell their stories. This list does not include the dozens of coming-out stories told on Outsports over the years, a list that is as inspiring as it is broad.
Here are the 30 coming-out-in-sports stories featured on Outsports since last National Coming Out Day, with links (just click on the name) so that you can read more about each athlete. Think of this the next time someone tries to argue that gays and sports don't mix.
Orlando Cruz, boxing: "I also want kids who suffer from bullying to know that you can be whoever you want to be in life, including a professional boxer [and] that anything is possible and that who you are or whom you love should not be impediment to achieving anything in life."
Liz Carmouche, mixed martial arts: Dave Doyle of SI.com has a great profile of Carmouche. Quotation: "I've absolutely gotten to the point in my life where I've been through so much and had to be closeted, there's no amount of money that's going to make me go back in the closet. If they say, 'OK, you gotta tone it down and then we'll pay you,' then you have the wrong person."
Kevin McClatchy, former owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates: "An amazing amount of support came forward after [the story] hit. I'm hearing from different folks from all walks of life. I'm hearing from a lot of my former baseball colleagues, which has been great, hearing from people I don't even know, giving me positive shout-outs. It's been great. It's one of those things I had feared doing for 25 years, and I finally got to that moment and I felt like I was jumping off a cliff. But it's been a positive experience."
Jamie Kuntz, football: This is the only negative story; Kuntz was kicked off his college football team after lying about kissing his boyfriend during a game.
Quotation: "If I could hear one thing, I would like to hear the school say they were wrong. I feel like I'm standing up for all the gays that play sports."
Jason Ball, Australian football: For Ball, publicly coming out was unnecessary. His teammates figured it out and were supportive. The homophobic language stopped. "It was like they could see those words have an effect on people because it was hurting me, one of their mates."
Thomas "Bozzy" Boswell, rugby: "I would really like to thank my close friends and especially my rugby team as I honestly thought I would be to ashamed to ever carry on playing rugby. But the boys have showed and proved to me that my thought of them were wrong and I'm so grateful they are the best bunch of players and true friends that I could ask for."
Stephen Bickford, soccer: Bickford laments life in the closet. Quotation: "What would my coach think? Would he not play me because I'm gay? Would I be cut from the team? These thoughts were almost unbearable. It's a weight on an athlete's shoulders that nobody should have to experience, but it happens every day to thousands of closeted athletes playing team sports all over the world."
Wade Davis, football: "How many people get to live out their two dreams? I got to play in the NFL, and now I get to change the world."
Seimone Augustus, basketball: From The Advocate: "Augustus is getting married -- to a woman. She says her future nuptials with LaTaya Varner encouraged her to come out publicly as a lesbian, and the two are planning a summer wedding."
Megan Rapinoe, soccer: "People probably guessed that I was gay because I'm pretty transparent in the way that I live my life. I think it's pretty cool, the opportunity that I have, especially in sports, because there's really not that many out athletes. I think it's important to be out. It's important to stand up and be counted and be proud of who you are. I'm happy if I can help anyone else in their struggle. I'd like to make a positive impact on people."
Olympians: Outsports found 23 gay and lesbian athletes competing in the 2012 London Olympics.
Peter Mandeau, tennis: The former Harvard tennis coach told his team a decade ago that he was gay. Quotation: "These athletes showed me understanding and compassion I didn't think they or the sports world had in them. I didn't trust them to treat me the same way, but luckily they trusted me to do just that. Their sense of humor went a long way disarming a potentially uncomfortable situation, a lesson that hasn't been lost on me."
Anja Pärson, skiing: Anja and Filippa met seven years ago ... Their friendship became ever deeper with time. All of a sudden one day Anja has a feeling she had not known before. She had fallen in love with her new friend, and Filippa had fallen in love with her.
Stephany Lee, wrestling: "I am who I am, and I'm not going to hide it. I'm not going to dress like a girl to fit an image. No, I'm me. I'm happy. That's all that matters."
Jessica Aguilar, mixed martial arts: She's ... reached some comfort in sharing her bisexual orientation, which she kept hidden in high school to avoid being singled out. "I don't put it in any titles," said Aguilar, "but I'd say when I've found the right person -- whether it's a man or a woman -- I'd be happy."
Josh Dixon, gymnastics: The only homophobia he has encountered has been from within himself. He acknowledges he once felt internal pressure about being a gay man in what some label the "gay sport" of gymnastics. He didn't want to fall into a stereotype. But he's come to embrace it, and he says his sexual orientation now makes him stand out more at the elite level.
Derick White, volleyball: "I wish I could have had the courage to speak out while I was still coaching at the college level. Comments made by some administrators and parents made me believe that it would be in the best interest of the programs for me to remain silent. I now realize that was ridiculous. I was contributing to the whole situation I should have been fighting. Yes, I was a gay collegiate head coach. Did that have anything to do with my skills or abilities as a coach? Not at all."
Rick Welts, basketball executive: "No one in a position like mine had ever taken this step. I couldn't watch anybody go through it and say, 'You know, that can work out okay.' So maybe I'm just not going to risk it. And I had great family, great friends that were supportive. But I just put a barrier around that part of my life in my work environment. "
Bryan Fautley, volleyball: "When someone says a homophobic slur and you're in the closet, you have no grounds to say anything, so you take it. Not only do you take it, but you remember it in your head, and it compounds."
Scott Heggart, hockey: In a series of poignant [YouTube] interviews, he asks the members of his family, one by one, whether they thought he was gay, and what their reaction is now that they know. He asks his dad to offer advice to other fathers struggling to support a gay child.
Stephen Bownes, football referee: "A number of our players also know [I'm gay]. A few years ago I was working a Friday night game on my birthday. As a special treat, some of the players offered me a visit to the locker room after the match. I politely declined their offer and the whole thing was done in good humor."
Jason Somerville, poker: "I decided I wasn't going to focus on making decisions that were in my best financial interest, I was going to focus on making decisions based on how they'd impact my happiness -- without making excuses. The obstacles that I had always created for myself -- what if this, what if that -- I put aside, and began making changes instead."
Nick Clark, volleyball: "I can't imagine living life in the closet any longer and not being able to help change people's minds about homosexuality. It is painful to read about gay teen suicides. I am a teacher at heart and this hits me the hardest. It's up to us to make sure that the future generations have a safe and inclusive environment to grow up in. It is important for us to realize the position that we are in as coaches and athletes. We can make a change and a difference."
Brian Healey, tennis: "It was the end of my freshman year, and I finally figured it was time to tell my friends what most of them already knew. When I finally worked up the courage to say it, there were a lot of tears and hugs and one very well timed spin of that classic record 'It's Raining Men' by a local radio station that I swear must have been listening to the conversation I was having. It obviously felt pretty nice."
Luke Huff, motorcycle racing: "It's very rare I've ever heard anyone act or speak with a homophobic tone at the track. Even then, the person who made the comment in poor taste would usually apologize later when word gets around to them that I or someone else in the paddock is in fact gay."
Anthony Alfano, hockey: "I hope that Chicago embraces me coming out as the student body president at the largest Catholic university in the nation as a sign that times are changing and people are becoming more tolerant and accepting of others for who they are."
David Testo, soccer: "Being gay to your teammates and your organization is very different from being gay publicly. When you travel you have a big target on your back for ridicule. I think that's why athletes don't come out. You put a target on your back."
Jed Hooper, rugby: "I met someone earlier this year who said he could not be with someone who was in the closet. That, basically, was the catalyst that I needed."
Gus Johnston, field hockey: "I'm a writer, art director, filmmaker and a hockey goalkeeper. I'm also a gay man -- and that's something I never thought I would say in such a public forum ... I regret immensely that I wasn't strong enough as a leader, that I didn't step up when I was playing and share this about myself."
Galen Dodd, volleyball: "Every practice I would hear some sort of comment about something or someone being 'gay' or a 'fag,' and each time I cringed thinking of how I would never be able to be who I truly am with them. Even though those terms are not meant to be harmful, and don't even seem relevant to what the speaker is trying to express, it has become common language among teenagers and young adults. But after I came out, my fellow players have been nothing but supportive."
Ben Baldus-Strauss and Evan Heiter, gymnastics: Baldus-Strauss: "Walking into the gym for the first time as a freshman at Michigan, I considered coming out and adding to the life changes that were being thrown at me as I started college life. But I quickly felt the pressure of the hyper-masculine environment of NCAA gymnastics and the rest of the athletic community. I retreated to my safe place." Heiter: "I feel like everyone who comes out of the closet starts dropping hints whether they know it or not. Whether it was the fact that I wore cologne to practice or included 'I Wanna Dance with Somebody' on my workout playlists, things should have become easier for my teammates to figure out."