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Out and Proud? The Trouble with Gay Athletes


This week, Jake Daniels, age 17, leapt out of the closet and became the only openly gay male professional footballer in Britain. For the athletically challenged, a footballer in Britain is a soccer player in the United States but with way more fame. First, we must applaud Jake for his bravery and boldness, especially at such a young age.

Jake Daniels

Jake is the first male player in the UK to come out since Justin Fashanu in 1990. He is an aggressive and skilled player who consistently scores goals and dominates the other players on the field.

With this exciting proclamation, Jake joins a small group of openly gay professional male athletes. It has been a long road, but most major sports have now had at least one openly gay athlete. You’ll notice that even though there are gay athletes like Greg Louganis, Billy Bean, and Jason Collins, there are very few who are openly gay and still actively playing the sport. The pattern has typically been to come out after retiring from the sport.

Footballer Robbie Rogers infamously retired at age 25, while he simultaneously came out as gay. He said he made the decision to retire so he could avoid the pressure and scrutiny from the press and fans, which he called "the circus" (and with good reason).

Robbie Rogers

Robbie Rogers

Ryan O’Callaghan, an NFL lineman, played in the league for 5 years before retiring and eventually coming out, while divulging a controversial claim that every NFL team had at least one closeted gay or bisexual on their team roster. Ryan Russell, who played in the NFL from 2015 – 2018, came out publicly in 2019. Greg Louganis competed in three separate Olympic games through 1988 before publicly acknowledging his sexuality in 1996.

Greg Louganis

These athletes all had various personal reasons for remaining discreet while playing professionally. Some did it because they were afraid of the consequences of being open about their sexuality. Others were being advised by publicists and agents that coming out would end their careers and ruin them financially. The athletes from the '70s, '80s, and '90s, like Billie Jean King and Greg Louganis, really paved the way for modern athletes to find more acceptance and support in coming out, both from teammates and fans.

Some athletes have used coming out as a platform to mainly benefit themselves, using the media frenzy to launch their own personal brand. Gus Kenworthy made splashy headlines when he came out as one of the first openly gay freestyle skiers.

Gus Kenworthy and Matthew Wilkas

He continued to garner media attention with stunts like smooching his then actor-boyfriend Matthew Wilkas on a publicly televised event during the Olympics in 2018, where he finished in 8th place.

Gus Kenworthy

Yes, he made major strides for the LGBT community, but he also marginalized the sensitive process of coming out as a gay male athlete. He plastered himself on the cover of every magazine he could, and quickly ingratiated himself in the insta-gay Hollywood mafia (you know the crew, Kyle Krieger, Tyler Oakley, the boys of Ryan Murphy etc.), becoming an ugly stereotype of gay culture. His Instagram is almost nothing but thirst traps and sponsored posts, and of course, we all follow because he is hot and we want a piece of that action, and he knows it.

Gus Kenworthy makes out with a hot dog

Gus Kenworth

There is nothing wrong with celebrating your sexuality and even showcasing it in such public ways. It becomes problematic when athletes like Kenworthy and Adam Rippon use their sexuality as a fame-pandering tool, something to make themselves standout. It can be successful too, with Rippon being cast on Dancing with the Stars and Kenworthy landing a starring role on the hit series American Horror Story. Gay athletes, just like straight athletes, should simply want to be known for their athletic ability and their contribution to the sport, not for wearing a Moschino harness on the red carpet of the Oscars.

Adam Rippon

Adam Rippon

Fame-seekers aside, it is generally more accepted to be openly gay and play a sport professionally now, but there is still an unfortunate pattern of gay athletes who retire shortly after coming out. Michael Sam famously became the first openly gay man to be drafted by an NFL team in 2014, but also announced he would leave the sport for good in 2015. Jason Collins made NBA history by becoming the first gay basketball player in the league in 2013, and retired the following year. David Denson publicly came out in 2015 making history for Major League Baseball and retired just two years later in 2017. The fabulous and sassy Johnny Weir, whose sexuality was the subject of much speculation for his whole career, came out as gay in 2011 and retired from the sport shortly after in 2013.

Jason Collins

Jason Collins.

These gay men overcame serious adversity, embodied bravery, and set a path for future gay athletes to follow, with the hope that coming out as an athlete would not be the most significant thing about the player, and maybe the focus could be on the sport itself. Carl Nassib is the first openly gay man to actively play in the NFL. He is quoted saying, “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."

Carl Nassib

Carl Nassib.

His sentiment is dead on and he should be a role model for gay athletes who hope to find a similar victory. Hopefully athletes like Nassib and Jake Daniels continue to find success in professional sports and help establish a stronger foundation for a new class of out and proud athletes.

Cybersocket: Plug In. Get Off. Questions? Comments? Email us at [email protected].

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