Professional basketball player Jason Collins made a splash this week by announcing he is gay. This is no small feat, to be sure. Even in 2013, coming out can be difficult, let alone when you are part of the macho sub-culture that is male professional sports. But did you know that a bunch of women professional athletes came out way before him? They did! Here are some of my faves.
Billie Jean King
She is one of the great tennis players of all time with 12 Grand Slam singles titles. The home of the US Open is named after her. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 for her work on behalf of women and the LGBT community. She was also outed as a lesbian in 1981 because of lawsuit by her mistress.
Another tennis player. (What can I say? I have a bias.) And another one of the greats. She has 32 Grand Slam singles championships and was at the top of the doubles game well into the 2000s. She came out of the closet in 1981, the same year as King.
What about team sports? The lesbians are there, as well!
Probably the most appropriately named pro basketball player of all time, Sheryl Swoopes was the inaugural member of the WNBA. During her professional career she won three Olympic gold medals. She also announced that she is gay in 2005.
Soccer is a sport, people! If you haven’t heard of her, it’s probably because she plays in France. But she helped the US women’s soccer team win gold in the 2012 Olympics, so I’m claiming her. So she’s super good at soccer. And also gay!
Here’s someone who could pound your head in if she wanted to. Carmouche not only participated in the first women UFC fight, she was also the first gay person to fight in the UFC, male or female.
By pointing out that these women were out and proud before Collins is not meant to diminish the courage it took him to do what he did. However, I do think it’s important to acknowledge the women who came before him because, as Kate Sheppard notes:
Although his coming out in Sports Illustrated is big news, NBA star Jason Collins is not the “first openly gay athlete in professional North American team sports,” as some have claimed. Claiming as much implies that either women’s sports don’t matter as much (or don’t exist at all), or that coming out is somehow less of a big deal for professional athletes who happen to be women.
Top photo: calliopegen/Wikimedia Commons