by Tracey Savell Reavis
Sport is a powerful agent of change. Significant moments in sports history have addressed political and social issues, uniting and advancing diversity.
Nelson Mandela declared that: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.”
Our 28 Great lists will be published throughout the year to celebrate trailblazers, triumphs and milestones in diversity in sport.
For Pride Month we recognize 28 Great Diversity in Sport LGBTQ+ trailblazers, icons and moments. Some individuals will sound familiar from history books, while others are making history now and laying the foundation for future inclusion.
This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the first-ever Gay Games, held in San Francisco in 1982. Tom Waddell, a former athlete who placed sixth in the 1968 Olympic decathlon, founded the Gay Games to promote inclusion of out and proud athletes. The landmark sports and arts event drew 1,350 athletes from 12 countries, competing in 17 different sports. Gay Games 11 will be held in 2023 in co-host cities Hong Kong, China, and Guadalajara, Mexico.
Notable pioneers of the inaugural Gay Games include Jean Tretter, co-founder of Team Minnesota who produced the torch relay segments from Cleveland through to Denver, and created the championship rules that governed all the sports; and Team Los Angeles co-founder Shamey Cramer, who produced the Festival Games (1983-85), the first-ever annual multi-sport festival hosted by the LGBT community.
28 Great: June 2022
1. Dave Kopay: Dave Kopay made history three years after retiring from a career in the National Football League as the first professional team sport athlete to declare his homosexuality. So significant was Kopay’s announcement–which serves as an inspiration still today– that in 2011 OutSports declared it the most important moment in LGBTQ sports history.
2. Patricia Nell Warren: Patricia Nell Warren’s 1974 book “The Front Runner,” was one of the first widely popular books to feature an open romantic relationship between two men, has become known as a landmark gay novel. Inspired in part by her own participation in open distance running, the book has been credited with inspiring the creation of more than 100 gay and lesbian amateur running clubs, now collectively known as the International Front Runners.
3. Billie Jean King: In 1973, 90 million people worldwide watched Billie Jean King defeat Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes,” one of the most important events to have played a significant role in earning respect and recognition for women athletes. King launched the Women’s Sports Foundation, has championed diversity and equity in sports for decades, and was named one of the “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century” by LIFE magazine.
4. Martina Navratilova: Tennis legend Martina Navratilova won nine Wimbledon singles titles, three Australian Opens, two French Opens, and four U.S. Opens. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000.
5. Robert Dover: At the Seoul 1988 Summer Olympic Games, six years after the first Gay Games, equestrian Robert Dover became the first openly gay athlete to compete in the modern Olympics. The four-time bronze medalist was later inducted into the United States Dressage Federation Hall of Fame in 2008.
6. Fallon Fox: Fallon Fox is the first openly transgender athlete in Mixed Martial Arts history. She came out as trans in 2013 after winning her first victories in the MMA women’s division.
7. Dutee Chand: Track star Dutee Chand is India’s first athlete to come out as queer, revealing in 2019 that she’s in a same-sex relationship. Chand is only the third Indian woman to ever qualify for the women’s 100-meter at the Summer Olympics.
8. Katie Sowers: Katie Sowers, offensive assistant for the San Francisco 49ers, became the first woman and the first openly gay person to coach at the Super Bowl in 2020. The former high school athletics director and Women’s Football Alliance player and coach even got her own Super Bowl commercial with Microsoft, one of many LGBTQ-inclusive ads that played during the game.
9. Quinn: Canadian footballer Quinn made history at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games by becoming the first trans and the first non-binary athlete to win a medal. They led Team Canada to a gold medal after defeating Team Sweden 3-2.
10. Jason Collins: Jason Collins made history as the first openly gay athlete to play in a game in the United States’ four major professional leagues when he took the court for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets on February 23, 2014. Collins, who publicly came out as gay at the conclusion of the 2012-13 season, advocates for further LGBTQ+ inclusivity and safety in sports and athletics.
11. Renee Richards: Renée Richards sued the U.S. Tennis Association and won the right to play at the 1977 U.S. Women’s Open after undergoing sex-reassignment surgery. The transgender pioneer would go on to play singles and double for four years on the women’s circuit.
12. Jim Buzinski and Cyd Zeigler: A commentator and author in the field of sexuality and sports, Zeigler cofounded the website Outsports.com in 1999 with LA Times sportswriter Jim Buzinski. Devoted to covering gay issues in sports, the site has reported on countless coming out stories, milestones and instances of homophobia and transphobia in sports, and been the recipient of several NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists Excellence in Journalism Awards.
13. Megan Rapinoe is a U.S. Women’s National Team player who has two World Cup titles and an Olympic gold medal, and Sue Bird is a 19-year veteran WNBA player and four-time league champion. The athlete couple and LGBTQ icons are activists in their respective sports, advocating for equal pay and voting rights among many issues.
14. Greg Louganis: In his 1995 autobiography “Breaking the Surface,” Louganis revealed that he was HIV positive, after first coming out at the 1994 Gay Games. Considered by many to be the greatest diver in history – he won gold medals at the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics, on both the springboard and platform –Louganis is the only man and the second diver in Olympic history to sweep the diving events in consecutive Olympic Games.
15. Victor Gutiérrez: Spanish water polo player Victor Gutiérrez came out in an interview in 2016 and shortly after found himself a victim of homophobic insults. He has been an open activist since, and was appointed the new LGTBI secretary of Spain’s political party.
16. Hope Powell: A former English soccer player, in 1988 Powell became the youngest ever coach of any English national football team, as well as the first woman and the first person of color to hold the position. Powell was named in 68th place on The Independent newspaper’s 2010 Pink List of influential lesbian and gay people in the UK.
17, Renee Montgomery: Two-time WNBA champion Renee Montgomery became the first former player to be both an owner and executive of a WNBA team, the Atlanta Dream, in 2021. Montgomery earned WNBA All-Star honors in 2011 and was named the WNBA’s Sixth Woman of the Year in 2012 during her 11-year career.
18. Carl Nassib: An Instagram post during Pride Month in 2021 put Carl Nassib into the history books, as the first openly gay active player in the NFL. The Los Angeles Raiders’ defensive end made the announcement in an Instagram post and said he hoped coming out as gay would help increase “visibility.”
19. Gay Games 9: During the Opening Ceremony of the ninth edition of the Gay Games, President Barack Obama lent his support via a welcome video message to all in Cleveland, Ohio. The message, a demonstration of his administration’s commitment to LGBT rights internationally, marked the first time a Head of State participated in a Gay Games.
20. Gareth Thomas: Welsh rugby champion Gareth Thomas came out as HIV-positive in 2019, becoming the first UK athlete to reveal he had the virus. The former Wales and British Lions captain, with more than 100 caps for his country, announced to the world of rugby in 2009 that he was gay.
21. 2022 NFL Draft: This past April, the National Football League made history when they drafted Trey McBride. Selected No. 55 by the Arizona Cardinals, McBride became the first NFL player to have been raised by same-sex parents.
22. Caster Semenya: Semanya is a South African middle-distance runner and winner of two Olympic gold medals and three World Championships in the women’s 800 meters. When not competing, she runs the Caster Semenya Foundation, which trains and assists young athletes, and supports campaigns to distribute menstrual cups to disadvantaged South African girls.
23. Billy Bean: Billy Bean, who came out after playing six years for the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Diego Padres in Major League Baseball, wrote his memoir, Going the Other Way, in 2003. He currently serves as Vice President & Special Assistant to the Commissioner of Major League Baseball overseeing multiple player education initiatives.
24. Kirk Walker: Kirk Walker officially became the only gay male Division I softball coach in 2005 when he came out to his team at Oregon State. In 18 seasons, he is the winningest softball coach in the program’s history.
25. Jake Daniels: Daniels, a forward for English football club Blackburn, made history earlier this month, when he came out and effectively became the first male openly gay active professional footballer in the UK since 1990. With support from his family and team, Daniels hopes with his decision to open he can become a role model for others.
26. John Amaechi OBE: John Amaechi OBE is a respected organisational psychologist, Chartered Scientist, international bestselling author (his latest book is the award-winning The Promises of Giants) and Founder of APS Intelligence. John was the first Britain to have a career in the NBA and the first former NBA player to come out in 2007 – sharing his life and his story in his first book Man in the Middle.
27. Rick Welts: Welts, who retired after 46 years working in the NBA, most recently as president and chief operating officer of the Golden State Warriors, was considered one of the most experienced and respected executives in the league. A member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, in 2011 Welts became the most prominent sports executive to acknowledge that he was gay.
28. Adam Rippon: Adam Rippon took home more than a bronze medal in the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics. The figure skater left as the first openly gay man to make a U.S. Winter Olympic team and the first to win a medal at the Winter Games.
photo: Gay Games I: San Francisco 1982 Closing Ceremony, Kezar Stadium, 1982 © Federation of Gay Games