Michael Sam could potentially be the first openly-gay, active NFL player; however, he is not the first gay professional athlete. Here is a look at the history of some openly gay and lesbian athletes.
Billie Jean King – Tennis
At age 17, King and Karen Hantze won the 1971 doubles championship at Wimbledon. She continued a successful career winning six Wimbledon singles championships and four U.S. Open titles. In 1981, King was forced to come out as bisexual in a palimony suit by a former female flame.
Greg Louganis – Diving
In 1995, Louganis announced that he was gay and HIV-positive on The Oprah Winfrey Show. In 2006, he said, “People who were close to me – family and friends – they knew about my sexuality. I just did not discuss my personal life, my sexuality with the media.” Louganis was a four time Olympic champion and the only diver to sweep the 3 meter and 10 meter diving events in consecutive Olympics.
Glenn Burke — Baseball
Burke didn’t come out publicly until after he retired, but he didn’t hide his sexuality. In the 1970s, his teammates on the L.A. Dodgers and Oakland A’s knew he was gay. His teammate Davey Lopes told ESPN regarding Burke’s sexuality, “Didn’t matter to us. We loved him.” Burke died in 1995 from AIDS-related causes.
David Testo – Soccer
Testo come out as gay in November of 2011, after his playing career was over. He played at the University of South Carolina and the University of North Carolina and then professionally in the MLS for the Columbus Crew.
Sheryl Swoopes – Basketball
Swoopes was drafted into the WNBA in 1997 and came out as a lesbian in 2005. She’s a four time WNBA champion and has won three Olympic Gold Medals for the U.S. At age 40, she became engaged to a man and told ESPN, “there’s nothing in my life that I regret, or that I would go back and change.” Swoopes is now the head women’s basketball coach at Loyola University.
John Amaechi – Basketball
In early 2007, Amaechi became the first former NBA player to come out publicly through his book Man in the Middle. He played at Penn State and continued his professional career in the NBA with Orlando, Utah, and Cleveland.
Gareth Thomas – Rugby
Thomas confirmed his sexuality when still an active professional rugby player. He appeared in 100 test matches for Wales. He told The Guardian, “What I choose to do when I close the door at home has nothing to do with what I have achieved in rugby. I’d love for [being gay], in 10 years’ time, not to even be an issue in sport and for people to say: ‘so what?’”
Orlando Cruz – Boxing
On October 4, 2012, Cruz became the first active professional boxer to be openly gay. In 2013, Cruz lost his bid for the featherweight title. Cruz also represented Puerto Rico in the Olympics in 2000.
Robbie Rogers — Soccer
Megan Rapinoe – Soccer
Rapinoe is a member of the U. S. Women’s national soccer team. She never tried to conceal her sexuality; no one asked her. She told Out magazine, “I think they were trying to be respectful and that it’s my job to say, ‘I’m gay.’ Which I am. For the record: I am gay.”
Brittney Griner – Basketball
Griner played college basketball at Baylor and was the top pick in the 2013 WNBA draft. Days after the draft, Griner came out publicly in an interview with Sports Illustrated. She said, “I wouldn’t say I was hiding or anything like that. I’ve always been open about my sexuality. If I can show that I’m out and I’m fine and everything’s OK, then hopefully the younger generation will definitely feel the same way.”
Jason Collins – Basketball
On April 29, 2013, Collins came out in a column that he wrote for Sports Illustrated. He became the first active NBA player to openly announce that he was gay. Nearly 10 months later, he is still a free-agent and hasn’t been picked up by any team.
Darren Young – Wrestling
In August of 2013, when Young was waiting for his bags at the airport, he was asked by a TMZ reporter when a gay wrestler would be accepted in WWE. He responded, “Look at me. I’m a WWE superstar and to be honest with you, I’ll tell you right now, I’m gay. And I’m happy. I’m very happy.” He is the first openly gay wrestler in WWE.
Michael Sam – Football
Sam was named SEC co-defensive player of the year in 2013. He came out as gay in an interview with ESPN on February 9, 2014. If drafted, he could be the first openly gay player in the NFL.