When it comes to the wonderful world of sports, we can think of at least 24 reasons to be proud.
Check out our inspiring list of openly gay male athletes and then, just for fun — and in the sporty spirit of friendly competition — show your support by voting for your favorite on the last page.
May the best man win!
Soccer player Anton Hysén, the son of one of Sweden's most legendary soccer players, came out in 2011, making him his country's first soccer pro to come out while still playing. A year later, he said his life has only gotten better since coming out.
Billy Bean, only the second major league baseball player to come out, played for eight seasons with the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Diego Padres. After the lefty outfielder retired, he penned Going the Other Way: Lessons From a Life in and out of Major League Baseball. Bean still holds the MLB record for four hits by a rookie in his first professional game.
Dave Kopay made history in late 1975 as the first NFL player, and the first major team-sports athlete overall, to come out as gay — albeit after he had retired. Kopay spent nine seasons, 1964 through 1972, in the NFL as a running back for the Washington Redskins, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, and New Orleans Saints. After his coming-out interview in the Washington Star, he “got very, very few hate mails,” he told Outsports. “Mostly the mail that poured in was amazingly supportive and telling their own stories. There were hundreds of letters forwarded to me.” Kopay is still making history: This year he joined other active and retired athletes in a friend of the court brief urging the Supreme Court to strike down California’s Proposition 8.
Esera Tuaolo was the third former NFL player to officially come out. Three years after retiring in 1999, Tuaolo announced that he was gay on HBO's Real Sports. He has been a firm advocate for LGBT people and informative on what life is like being gay in sports, comparing it to the treatment of gay service members under "don't ask, don't tell."
Nicknamed "Alfie," Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas came out in 2009, making him the first openly gay professional rugby union player. Now retired from professional rugby, Thomas remains active with the British charity ChildLine, a telephone counseling service for children and young people. "I don't know if my life is going to be easier because I'm out," Thomas said in an interview with The Guardian, "but if it helps someone else ... then it will have been worth it."
Even with a short career, center fielder Glenn Burke was known as the Los Angeles Dodgers' heart and soul during his playing days in the mid-1970s. He was undoubtedly out to his teammates, was largely credited with inventing the high-five with Dusty Baker, and even played in the World Series for the Dodgers before being traded for a tumultuous tenure with the Oakland A's. After only four years in professional baseball, Burke's career stopped short after a car accident. In 1995, Burke died, essentially homeless, due to complications from AIDS.
University of California gymnast Graham Ackerman won three NCAA Men's Gymnastics national titles during his college career, and was named a six-time All-American. He was later slowed by injury, hindering his chances at an Olympic career, but said it was important that he was out while on his college team. "I think a lot of straight gymnasts are guarded," he told Out in 2005. "It's been good for my team to be exposed to someone who is gay, because they've had to adjust. It's been a learning experience for so many of us: for teammates, myself, my coaches, my parents."
Two-time Olympic Gold medal diver Greg Louganis is the only male in Olympic history to sweep the springboard and platform diving events in consecutive Olympic Games. His gold in 1988 did not come easy; he hit his head on the board during the preliminary rounds of the springboard event in front of millions around the globe, suffering a concussion. He later disclosed that he was gay and HIV-positive and was subsequently dropped by most of his corporate sponsors, with the exception of swimwear manufacturer Speedo. Louganis is an outspoken HIV/AIDS activist and a New York Times best-selling author with his autobiography, Breaking the Surface. He served as the diving announcer in the 1994 Gay Games and is currently a coach with the SoCal Divers Club. He announced his engagement to Johnny Chaillot this month.
Hulking Australian rugby player Ian Roberts came out in 1995, making him one of the highest-profile openly gay active pro athletes at the time. "When I came out officially it was probably by that stage one of the worst kept secrets, you know, in rugby league," he told Australian radio. "Anyone who knew me within rugby league, within the fraternity, knew that I was gay." While his decision to stop attempting to pass as straight was largely heralded, he said he had been called antigay slurs on the field. After continuing in the league for two more years, Roberts retired.
NBA center Jason Collins became the first active male professional gay athlete on the cover of Sports Illustrated in April. After the news hit, Martina Navratilova called Collins “a game changer” for team sports, one of the last areas where inherent homophobia persists. In the article, Collins said that he chose 98 as his jersey number while with the Boston Celtics (and later, the Washington Wizards) in honor of Matthew Shepard, the victim of a horrifying gay hate crime in Laramie, Wyo., who died in 1998. “It’s a statement to myself, my family, and my friends,” Collins said. In college, he was an All-American with NCAA powerhouse Stanford, and he went to the Houston Rockets during the first round (18th overall) of the 2001 NBA draft. He's currently a free agent but has played for the Celtics, Wizards, New Jersey Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Atlanta Hawks. Collins marched through the streets of Boston in the city's 2013 Gay Pride parade.
Now 36, Ji Wallace is an Australian Olympic trampoline champion who came out as gay in 2005 and as HIV-positive in 2012. He’s won several Australian national titles, and he set a world record for doing a triple-triple in the hugh jump at the World Championships. In the 2000 Olympics he received a silver medal in the trampoline. He told HIV Plus magazine that a gold Olympic medal is 93% silver, a thin exterior plating is the only physical difference between the gold and silver medals. “So really, everybody comes second, don’t they?” the Australian Olympian jokes. “It’s just a pretty paint job.”
John Amaechi is one of the world's most high-profile gay athletes. American born and English raised, Amaechi made history with his 2007 New York Times best-selling memoir, in which he came out as gay, becoming the first former NBA player to do so. Post-retirement, Amaechi continues to do charitable work, for which he's been recognized by the British government and appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by the queen in 2011.
Johnny Weir is a three-time U.S. national champion (2004-2006) in men’s figure skating and represented the U.S. twice at the Olympics, finishing fifth and sixth respectively. He hopes to compete in the 2014 Winter Games in Japan. Weir recently starred in his own TV series on Sundance and Logo, titled Be Good Johnny Weir. He also was a guest judge on Logo’s RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Food Network’s Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off. Weir officially came out in January 2011, when he wrote in his memoir, Welcome to My World, “With people killing themselves and being scared into the closet, I hope that even just one person can gain strength from my story.”
Out gymnast Josh Dixon started with the sport at age 7 because his sisters were involved, but he showed great promise. He excelled at Stanford, where he was a team champion in 2009 and 2010, as well as a floor exercise champ in 2010. Dixon missed his chance to make the Olympic team in 2012 but is now on the U.S. national team.
English soccer player Justin Fashanu came out in 1990, in the middle of his career. He was first black English soccer player to be valued at over 1 million pounds, when he transferred teams, and was one of the biggest stars in British soccer. However, after he came out, Fashanu was taunted on the field by fans, and he eventually left the sport. He came to the U.S. but was accused of sexually assaulting a teenager. Just weeks after returning to England in 1998, he hanged himself. Since then, the Justin Campaign was launched in his honor to stop bullying and homophobia in sports, specifically soccer.
Mark Bingham’s job was running the public relations firm he founded, but his passion was rugby. He played the sport at Los Gatos High School in California and the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a member of the 1991 national championship team. He went on to play with amateur rugby clubs in San Francisco, including the predominantly gay but inclusive San Francisco Fog, which he helped found in 2000. He became more than a sports hero, however, on September 11, 2001. A passenger that day on United Airlines Flight 93, bound from Newark for San Francisco, Bingham is believed to be among those who wrestled control of the plane from terrorist hijackers and caused it to crash in rural Pennsylvania instead of its intended target of the White House or U.S. Capitol, sacrificing his life in the process. The Bingham Cup tournament, “the World Cup of gay rugby,” is named for him.
Matthew Mitcham, now 25, came out two months before he made history as the first openly gay man to win an Olympic gold medal. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Australian diver took home the gold for the 10-meter platform, beating out a tenacious Chinese diving team. After his big win, Mitcham was named the chief of parade for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 2009, and he took part in the 2010 Gay Games in Cologne, Germany.
Orlando Cruz is a human stereotype-buster. Small-framed and openly gay, Cruz packs a powerful punch as a rising featherweight boxer. He has 20 knockouts under his belt since starting to knock heads in his native Puerto Rico. He wears his outness on his sleeve, proclaiming last year that "I have always been and always will be a proud gay man." In an interview with The Advocate he said his homeland is not homophobic: “It’s a myth.”
Rick Welts, the highest-ranking openly gay executive in the NBA, left his job at the Phoenix Suns in 2011 to be closer to his partner and his two children in Sacramento, but then quickly secured a job with the Golden State Warriors as president only weeks later. Welts is obviously not only a trailblazer but also a valuable leader in sports.
Los Angeles Galaxy striker Robbie Rogers got a standing ovation when he took the field this year as the first openly gay male player in Major League Soccer — or in any major league U.S. team sport. Rogers had left the sport upon coming out but returned after a few months of adjustment. On that day, Rogers said he knew the world would be watching, but the nerves disappeared when it became just another game.
Rudy Galindo overcame an impoverished childhood in Mexico to become U.S. figure skating’s first openly gay champion in 1996. Galindo, who’s HIV-positive, was just inducted into the Figure Skating Hall of Fame in December. Says Laura Galindo-Black, Rudy’s sister and onetime coach, "I'm just so proud of him, that he's finally acknowledged for who he is as an artist and what he contributed to the world of figure skating. He crossed so many lines and barriers. I think he's the perfect person to be honored."
A former U.S. decathlete who competed in the 1968 Olympics, Tom Waddell went on to found the Gay Games in 1981. The event was originally called the Gay Olympics, but that landed Waddell in a dispute over the right to use the Olympic name. He died of AIDS complications in 1987.
NFL cornerback Wade Davis has played for the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins. and the Seattle Seahawks but now is out of the closet and mentoring LGBT youth at the Hetrick-Martin Institute.
Even though it's been a couple of years since Will Sheridan graduated from Villanova, where he was a starter for the men's basketball team, he likes to use his experiences to help others. "I'm trying to have a voice, and I want that voice to reach as many people as it can," he told ESPN when coming out in 2011. "I mean, look at me. I'm black. I'm gay. I'm like a quadruple minority, and I feel like a little piece of me resides in everybody. Maybe there's a kid out there who doesn't think he's OK, and he can look at me and say, 'OK, he played college basketball. He went overseas. He has a music career and now he's living his life. Now he's who he wants to be and he's happy and confident and comfortable.' It's my responsibility to talk about that."
Vote for your favorite on the next page!