As America celebrates February as Black Month, Compete looks back at the many sports figures we’ve covered over the years. Undoubtedly the first to be out was Glenn Burke. He was posthumously recognized by MLB as Baseball’s first gay pioneer. While he was also credited as having invented the “high five,” the sport didn’t exactly “glad-hand” him, and he left the field in the early 1980s because he valued being an openly gay man more than being a baseball star.
Another early ‘outer” is Sheryl Swoops, ranked #6 WNBA Player of all time. After formally coming out in 2005, Swoops told the world, “it doesn’t change who I am. I can’t help who I fall in love with. No one can.” The WNBA has probably been the most supportive of professional sports when it comes to the rainbow. Witness Brittney Griner, Glory Johnson, Layshia Clarendon and Seimone Augustus
Phaidra Knight reminds us Black lesbians aren’t only on the basketball court by becoming the second American athlete welcomed into the World Rugby Hall of Fame.
Unfortunately, African-American gay men haven’t fared nearly as well. Like many of you at first I was excited and then heartbroken when NBA player Jason Collins came out during an interview with Sports Illustrated magazine in 2013. Jason was the first active athlete to come out as gay in any of the major American sports. Then he found himself to be about as employable as Colin Kaepernick. Sports journalist, LZ Granderson, announced to CNN he was also gay, and supported Jason with his decision to publicly speak about his sexual orientation. And we all remember the potential of college star Michael Sam. The problem just isn’t with the NFL. The NBA hasn’t gotten over Jason Collins. More recently, NCAA College Hero, Derrick Gordon, felt NBA didn’t give him a chance because he’s openly gay.
Many of the other American-American gay men who made their way into pro-sports history, didn’t come out until they had retired. The NFL numbers Wade Davis and Kwame Harris as players who stayed closeted while in uniform. NBA remembers John Amaechi, who began with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1995.
But when it comes to being successful and authentically oneself outside of the WNBA, let’s celebrate Pat Manuel and Darren Young. Pat Manuel is the first in U.S. boxing history who has transitioned from female to male. Darren was the first WWE Superstar wrestler to come out during a casual TMZ interview while at the top of his game, with no apparent negative consequences. Maybe one day the major sports franchises will catch up with Wrestling. Happy Black History Month!
By: Ty Nolan