How Professional LBGTQ+ Athletes Spread Awareness About Pressures Facing the LGBTQ+ Community

4 min read

Blythe Hastings ’23

Sports Editor

In 2021, Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. He came out as gay in a video posted to his Instagram, adding he donated  $100,000 to The Trevor Project, an organization that focuses on suicide prevention in LGBTQ+ youth after he struggled with his sexuality for 15 years. “I just want to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay,” Nassib said in the video. “I just think that representation and visibility are so important. I actually hope that like one day videos like this and the whole coming-out process are just not necessary, but, until then, I’m going to do my best and my part to cultivate a culture that’s accepting, that’s compassionate.” Nassib signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this summer after spending the previous two seasons with the Raiders.

Luke Prokop became the first NHL player to come out as gay. Prokop, a prospect with the Nashville Predators, wrote in an Instagram post that he was “no longer scared to hide who I am.”He added, “From a young age I have dreamed of being an NHL player, and I believe that living my authentic life will allow me to bring my whole self to the rink and improve my chances of fulfilling my dreams.”Before Prokop, no active or retired NHL player had come out as gay.

Soccer star Megan Rapinoe is openly gay. In 2019, the women’s US national soccer team won the FIFA Women’s World Cup, but it seemed all eyes were on the team’s star player and captain Megan Rapinoe. The athlete quickly made a name for herself in a series of TV interviews, where she voiced her support of women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights as an openly gay woman. “I think female athletes, in general, are at the forefront of every protest in general because we’re gay, we’re women, we’re women of color, we’re sort of everything all at one time,” Rapinoe told NBC News in 2019. “We’re unfortunately constantly being oppressed in some sort of way. So I feel like us just being athletes, us just being at the pinnacle of our game is kind of a protest in a way and is sort of defiant in and of itself.”

Billie Jean King, a professional tennis player, was outed in 1981. Billie Jean King is one of the most famous names in professional tennis. Over the course of her career, she earned 39 Grand Slam titles from 1966 to 1975. She also beat Bobby Riggs in the famous “Battle of the Sexes” match. In 1981, King was outed as a lesbian, and her publicists told her to deny the claim. “I said, ‘I’m going to do it. I don’t care. This is important to me to tell the truth.'” King said in an interview 44 years later. “The one thing my mother always said, ‘To thine own self be true.'”

Ryan Russell became the first openly bisexual person in the NFL and in any major professional league. Ryan Russell played for the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a defensive end before becoming a free agent. In 2019, he made headlines when he announced he is bisexual in an essay on ESPN.  “Let that sink into your brain: Even though openly LGBTQ people are thriving in every area of public life—politics, entertainment, the top corporations in America—they are so invisible in pro sports that a gossip blogger is doing a favor for a bisexual football player by not disclosing that he happens to date men,” Russell wrote in the essay. “Nobody should need a favor to live honestly. In nobody’s world should being careful mean not being yourself. The career you choose shouldn’t dictate the parts of yourself that you embrace.”

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