Almost all of us have spent a larger part of our childhood and adolescence looking up to sportspeople from track, field, arena or even water. We learnt to follow them, to know their numbers and to rejoice in their achievements as a part of our growing up.
Before we had our own hopes, dreams and aspirations, we could feel the same kind of exhilaration or disappointment through their achievements or failures, even though we didn’t actually understand what victory or defeat meant.
Somewhere between all these, these people became more than just icons for us and transcended to being role models, heroes – shapes in which we moulded our own selves. So when we saw them take the steps out of the closet, it was a big assurance for the LGBT community in a way to feel encouraged and inspired enough to follow them down that road.
Here are 5 LGBT Sportspeople who took pride in their rainbow!
- JASON COLLINS
Jason Paul Collins is an American retired professional basketball player who played 13 seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA). After the 2012–13 NBA season concluded, in the cover story of the May 6, 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated, he came out of the closet as gay, becoming the first active male sportsperson from one of the four major North American professional team sports to publicly do so.
Now retired, he became an ambassador for LGBT people’s acceptance in team and individual sports and involves himself in various events related to the same.
“I’m a veteran, and I’ve earned the right to be heard. I’ll lead by example and show that gay players are no different from straight ones. I’m not the loudest person in the room, but I’ll speak up when something isn’t right.”
- IAN THORPE
Australian swimmer Ian James Thorpe is not only the most successful Olympian from his own country, but also one of the best and most popular ones of all times. In every Olympics, there are a couple of athletes who stand out overshadowing the others and kind of own the Games for that year. The 2000 Summer Olympics belonged to Thorpe, where he became the most successful athlete with 3 gold and 2 silver medals. He continued his streak with six gold medals in one World Championship the following year.
He came out in 2014 as gay over an interview after years of denying the same upon questioning. He even mentioned specifically in his autobiography that he was straight and exclusively attracted to women. So it raised a question among many that whether being an LGBT person was still a matter of stigma in Australia that a legendary personality like him had to live a lie for so long.
- NICOLA ADAMS
British professional boxer created history when she won the first gold medal in the first ever women’s boxing event to be held in Olympics in the 2012 Games. She retained her title in the flyweight category in 2016 Olympics, along with sweeping the Commonwealth Games and European Games. Being openly a bisexual, she broke the path by miles becoming the first LGBT athlete to win an Olympic boxing gold medal.
Completely uninhibited and non-secretive about herself and her sexuality, she is a prominent and inspiring figure in the LGBT community of the sports arena.
- STEVEN DAVIES
Young English cricketer Steven Davies decided to get rid of the burden of hiding the truth about his sexuality from his teammates and came out just before the Ashes Series of 2011. In an interview with The Telegraph, UK, he admitted that it was getting extremely difficult to keep on lying and that it would have affected his off-field bonding with the boys. But with enough help and mentoring from Coach Andy Flower and Captain Andrew Strauss, he finally took the step.
His teammates were absolutely supportive of him, but he admitted to have his nerves wrecked before doing it, even though it felt like the right thing to do.
“It’s the biggest decision I’ve had to face, and by far the toughest – bigger even than facing Brett Lee in the middle.”
- MARTINA NAVRATILOVA
Though we are going back a few years, such mentions are necessary to know that coming out of sportspeople is not entirely a recent thing, even though majorly. Martina Navratilova is one of the all-time great tennis players, a former World No. 1 and holder of the record of the most number of Major titles (both men and women) in the open era.
In 1981, shortly after becoming a United States citizen (previously Czech), Navratilova gave an interview to New York Daily News, coming out as bisexual, but has ever since identified as a lesbian. On September 6, 2014, Navratilova proposed to her long-time girlfriend Julia Lemigova at the US Open. They married in New York on December 15, 2014.
As we see all these sportspeople and many more coming out and yet going on with their amazing feats and achievements, we know that it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of peers, sports authorities and ardent fans. But like many other burning social issues, this particular situation is also trapped in a very medieval mindset in India.
An Olympian from Tamil Nadu, Santhi Soundararajan had her privates were examined, and her gender questioned in 2006. In the end, she was labelled as a “man” and stripped off the 800 metre silver medal which she had won at the Asian Games in Doha. She was banned from active professional participation in her sport’s events and all her achievements were struck off.
However, in 2016, after a whole decade, she been appointed as an athletic trainer in a permanent capacity with the Sports Development Authority of her state, which the authorities said was an effort to restore the dignity of a Tamil sportswoman. Arrangements were also being made to get in touch with Indian Olympic Association and Sports Authority of India to take up her case at the Court of Arbitration: a step towards reclamation of her medals.
I guess that can be called as a silver lining, given the current scenario of matters.