National Coming Out Day celebrated every October 11th is an important day within the LGBTQI community to celebrate living out and open while reflecting on our own personal journey. We celebrate today our friends and family to respect the challenges and strength we all face to learn to accept ourselves for who we are and to inspire hope for those who are experiencing this journey themselves.

For this year’s National Coming Out Day, we are highlighting some of the athletes and sports people who have taken the next step in coming out and showing the world that being LGBTQI is healthy, normal and possible within the sports community.

Andy Brennan- Soccer Player for Australia’s Green Gully came out earlier this year in an essay published with Professional Footballers Association to express himself and share his story. He is one of the world’s only openly gay professional team athletes playing on an active roster.

“Throughout my whole A-League and football career, I’ve never known of, met, or spoken with an a out gay male footballer in Australia. Globally, it’s astonishing how few male gay football players have come out during their careers.

When I was at Newcastle Jets, I didn’t want to accept my sexuality. 

At that time, I was really focused on playing sport and doing my best there, even though I was injured at times. I tried my best to put all my focus and effort into the game and maybe put that part of me aside.

It took me time to realise that I couldn’t keep living this lie; that I wanted to be happy with who I am. At some point you have to realise that that’s who you are and you’ve just gotta be who you are.”  

Anthony Bowens- American Wrestler who first publicly came out as bisexual in January 2017 has “come out again” as an openly gay male. He shared an eight minute Youtube Video with his announcement as he rang in the New Year with his boyfriend. In an interview with Out, he reflected on being gay and/or bi;

“I spoke a lot about the ‘bi today, gay tomorrow’ stereotype because I saw that mentioned a lot over the last two years and how it affected people that I know who identify as bisexual who aren’t as thick-skinned as I am,” Bowens said in a follow-up interview with Out. “Even with my ‘label change’ I will always advocate for anyone who identifies as bisexual. The bisexual community is just as diverse with people who are firm in their beliefs of who they are, those who may be still finding themselves or those like myself who’s view change over time. It’s all okay. It’s your life, your journey.” 

Dutee ChandTrack athlete from India revealed that she was in a relationship with another woman and subsequently became India’s first openly LGBTQI athlete. While India recently decriminalized same-sex relationships, Chand is the first high profile person in India to publicly come out. In an interview with the Indian Express, she shared;

“I have found someone who is my soulmate. I believe everyone should have the freedom to be with whoever they decide they want to be with. I have always supported the rights of those who want to be in a same-sex relationship. It is an individual person’s choice. Currently, my focus is on the World Championships and the Olympic Games but in the future I would like to settle down with her.”

“I have always believed that everyone should have the freedom to love. There is no greater emotion than love and it should not be denied. The Supreme Court of India has also struck down the old law. I believe nobody has the right to judge me as an athlete because of my decision to be with who I want. It is a personal decision, which should be respected. I will continue to strive to win medals for India at international meets.” 

Hurley Haywood- American Race Car Driver, he is long retired from professional racing, but he has always felt confident in who he was. He first came out in his autobiography Hurley: From the Beginning and talks more about in in his documentary Yet, during the height of his career, coming out wasn’t exactly easy, but he didn’t hide it either. In an interview with Out, he shared;

“When I started racing, I didn’t hide that [I was was gay] from anybody,” he told Out. “I don’t act gay, I don’t look gay, I just sort of live my life the way I want to. And if somebody asked me the question, I would say, ‘Yes, I am,’ and then we would talk about it.”

“In the 70s and 80s, you just didn’t want to discuss that with anybody,” he continued. “I was afraid, not necessarily to have that discussion with the industry that I was making my living at, but the fan base. I didn’t want to let my fans down, and that fan base was growing considerably, and I was just really afraid what their reaction would be if I publicly came out.”

Jon Lee Olsen– Danish Ice Hockey player is the person on this list who has most recently come out, doing so just four days ago on October 7th, 2019 when he mentioned he is gay during an interview on live TV. He is part of only a small handful of openly gay ice hockey players to come out and has previously opened up to his teammates this past August. During the interview, he expressed his motivation for coming out publicly;

“There’s a risk that some people might shout and heckle me while I’m playing matches,” he said last Thursday. “It’s something I have to be ready for and be mature about. But I feel that I’m ready to show that you can be gay and play ice hockey.”

Ryan Russell American Football Player and NFL Free Agent came out as bisexual while recovering from injuries he received during his previous seasons with the NFL. While he is still recovering, Russell is hoping to be signed to an NFL team for the next season. In a self essay he published in ESPN, Russell wrote;

“But for all the encouraging feelings about the visit, I do have one strong regret that has inspired me to make a promise to myself: This is the last time I will ever interview for a job as anything other than my full self. Out of love, admiration and respect, I want the next team to sign me valuing me for what I do and knowing who I truly am.”

“Have I lied to teammates, coaches, trainers, front-office executives and fans about who I am? Not exactly. But withholding information is a form of deceit. And I want the next part of my career — and life — steeped in trust and honesty. During the season you spend more time with your team than with your own family; truth and honesty are the cornerstones of a winning culture. My truth is that I’m a talented football player, a damn good writer, a loving son, an overbearing brother, a caring friend, a loyal lover, and a bisexual man.”

 In addition to the athletes we shared above, it is important to give a shout out to Megan Rapinoe and the US Women’s National Soccer Team who recently won the world cup. While Rapinoe and her teammates didn’t “come out” this year, they did represent the LGBTQI on one of sport’s biggest stages in the world. Not only did they win the World Cup, but they showed the world that gay and straight women are strong, resilient, capable and successful in whatever they pursue. Rapinoe was also elected as the World Cup’s MVP and used her platform to pay tribute to the athletes who have inspired her by fighting for LGBTQI, racial, and gender equality in sports leagues across the world.

With so many strong and resilient athletes who are taking the lead and helping set an example for our generation and those who follow, this National Coming Out Day certainly gives us the optimism and inspiration that things really do get better.

By Dirk Smith