Compete Network Feature Stories

The Sports Diversity Movement

Featured in our May/June PRIDE Issue!

Sports have always brought people together and contrary to a popular belief that still persists today, LGBTQ+ individuals can and DO play sports! But for early LGBTQ+ athletes, that path to inclusion, equality and acceptance wasn’t a straight-forward one. However, in the 1970s thanks to the Stonewall Riots in 1969 and the publication of Patricia Nell Warren’s groundbreaking book, “The Front Runner” in 1974, more gay people were willing to come together to play on gay teams with people they knew, keeping them all safe from being outed.

What started with local pickup games began to grow when athletes looked for some competition from teams in neighboring gay sports communities. As this began to spread by word of mouth, tournaments began to get larger and add some fun events where gay athletes could socialize openly in a safe environment. As a result, national and international gay sports organizations began to form.

You can see below that these important national and international LGBTQ+ sports organizations and sports advocacy groups started to grow in the 70s and then took off in the 80s, 90s and the early 2000s as it became safer for predominantly recreational athletes to come out.

Sports Organizations

1974

1977

1976

1980

1982

1985

1987

1990

1992

2000

2002

  • National Gay Flag Football League – men’s & women’s flag football – http://ngffl.com/

2003

2006

2007

  • Amateur Sports Alliance of North America (ASANA) – www.asana.com  women’s softball & football

2012

2016

Sports Advocacy Groups

1974

1977

2011

2012

2014

2016

Compete Magazine Works to Unite the Gay Community Through Sports

Realizing there was little coverage of gay sports by the media, Compete Magazine was formed by two LGBTQ+ athletes to correct that. And knowing that the key to acceptance is visibility, the magazine not only reported on various LGBTQ+ sports tournaments, it was committed to tell the stories of individual athletes, their teams and organizations. The grid below shows how the magazine grew with this new and exciting movement toward sports diversity.

Compete Magazine’s Evolution

2006

  • Eric Carlyle and David Riach participate in International Gay Rugby’s Bingham Cup in New York; agree to start a magazine focused on covering LGBTQ+ sports
  • Media Out Loud is formed in Tempe, Arizona to publish Sports Out Loud magazine

2007       

  • Sports Out Loud launched at Phoenix Pride
  • Sports Out Loud garners nationwide media attention causing so much traffic its official online subscription page goes down for 12 hours
  • Carlyle and Riach claim runner-up in Planet Out’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” contest

2008       

  • Sports Out Loud announces first-ever Sports Out Loud “Athlete of the Year” contest

2009       

  • Sports Out Loud changes name to Compete
  • Compete launches 1st website and social media page

2010       

  • Compete hosts 1st Sports Diversity Awards in Los Angeles; Greg Louganis hosts

2011       

  • Compete Radio launched nationwide on QTalk Radio & in syndication
  • Compete distributed nationwide at Barnes & Noble, Borders & Target

2012       

  • Compete partners with World Rugby Champion Ben Cohen, MBE to form Stand Up Magazine, world’s 1st anti-bullying magazine
  • Compete partners with National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) to publish Rebound magazine & approved by National Basketball Association (NBA), Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) & Harlem Globetrotters
  • Lexus & Microsoft both title sponsors of 2012 Compete Sports Diversity Awards

2013       

  • Recently out athletes Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers honored with awards at 2013 Compete Sports Diversity Awards Engineered by Lexus

2014       

2015       

2016       

2017       

  • Compete begins limited printing of official tournament guides
  • Major League Soccer (MLS) joins Compete Sports Diversity Council

2018       

2019       

  • Compete Sports Diversity publishes tournament guides for both ASANA & Softball World Series, Gay Bowl XIX, Gay Softball World Series (GSWS), Sin City Classic, World Gay Rodeo Finals (WGRF); now offer this service to tournaments nationwide
  • Compete Sports Diversity announces revival of Compete Radio and Compete TV
  • Compete Sports Diversity hosts Sports Diversity Jubilee in Richmond, Virginia
  • Compete Sports Diversity hosts first Sports Leadership Influencer in Overland Park, Kansas

2020       

  • Compete Sports Diversity hosts 10th Compete Sports Diversity Awards in partnership with Sin City Classic at 2020 Sin City Classic in Las Vegas

The movement really began to grow as more ally (straight) athletes started to rethink their stereotypes of gay athletes as weak “sissies” they’d once bullied on the school playground – these were real athletes who actually played at the same high competitive level they were used to. A growing number of allies wanted to play on their local gay teams: some for their willingness to promote sports diversity but some just because they had more fun on LGBTQ+ teams. Once their gay teammates became visible, the walls came down for allies – their gay counterparts became … just people.

Visibility of Pro Players Coming Out

While all this was slowly changing on a recreational level, it wasn’t until some professional players came out as gay that caused the public to pay attention. Sadly, some early players were outed in salacious articles, but a number of players who came out after retiring from the NFL, NBA and MLB wrote books or did TV interviews detailing the pain and suffering being closeted had caused them.

“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay. … No one wants to live in fear. I’ve always been scared of saying the wrong thing. … It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie.”– Jason Collins, Sports Illustrated, April 29, 2013

Any movement grows as its mission begins to resonate with people. As the public began to see professional athletes as people they had cheered for and obsessed over in a new light, things actually did begin to get better. There has never been a “Stonewall Uprising” moment that has allowed LGBTQ+ athletes to feel safe and comfortable coming out en masse. But looking at the graph below you can see that 2013, the year Jason Collins came out and received both public and private support for his courageous decision, the list of out athletes began to grow, many of them becoming vocal advocates for change and acceptance.

Heather – add grid of athletes coming out

Professional Athletes Come Out

Early 1970s;

1975

  • Dave Kopay is 1st NFL player outed by newspaper article quoting unnamed NFL player as its source

1977

1981

1988

1992

  • NFL player Roy Simmons retires; comes out as gay

1999

2002

2003

2005

2007

  • John Amaechi, OBE becomes 1st NBA player to come out after retiring from game

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

It’s 50 years of Pride; pride for progress we’ve made in changing the hearts and minds of what I like to call Team Human Race. Let’s go have fun for Pride – be outrageous, wear glitter, dance till your booty drops off! But remember what President Obama said, “That we are stronger together. That out of many, we are one.”

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