Megan Rapinoe, in an interview with Out Magazine, clarified a statement she made in an earlier interview with Kick TV that seemed like she was coming out, but only if you paid close attention. The thing is she was not really closeted, but she wasn’t public about it either. That has changed and it’s a great thing she is doing by coming out publicly now before the Olympics. Megan Rapinoe is a great athlete and a very popular member of the US women’s soccer team. She decided to come out publicly in part because she understands her status as a role model for young people and wants to be part of changing the world for young LGBT people in sports.
She is comfortable with who she is. She has been out with teammates, friends and family for a while. Making the decision to be public about being gay feels like the right next step and why not? I can only hope that more women and men in sport make similar decisions about coming out publicly. I am not in favor of outing public figures, but I love it when they decide to come out. We need their visibility to help change the sports world top to bottom.
Megan discusses some of her perceptions about the differences between coming out for female and male athletes: She believes that it is easier for women athletes to come out and be supported by their teammates than it is for gay men in sport. I agree that it seems like women’s teams at the college, professional and Olympic levels are more accepting in general of lesbian teammates and coaches. However, I think we also need to acknowledge that things are changing fast in men’s sports. We cannot assume as we did a few years ago that it would be unthinkable for a gay man in a pro team sport to come out. Cyd Zeigler’s interviews with NFL players indicate a big change among in pro football and these changes are mirrored in comments by other male pro team sport athletes as well. Change is afoot in men’s sports.
Sometimes the media greet lesbian athletes’ coming out with a big yawn, as if it only matters now when gay male athletes come out. Witness the incredible media frenzy recently when Wade Davis, a long retired NFL player came out as compared to the coming out of WNBA Star and Olympic team member, Seimone Augustus. Wade Davis – interviews on CNN and hundreds of articles in the mainstream media. Seimone Augustus? Crickets chirping in the night. Do you seriously think her coming would have the same media response if she were an NBA player?
We cannot also assume that everything is cool for lesbians in women’s sports. That would be a dangerous assumption. In the last two years, we can point to several instances of discrimination against lesbian athletes or coaches in high school and college sports. Golf coach, Katie Brenny’s lawsuit against the University of Minnesota is still going through the courts. Let’s not forget Texas high school softball player, Skye Wyatt, who was kicked off her team and outed to her mother by her coach, whose actions were backed up by the school committee. Remember Niki Williams the high school basketball coach (also in Texas) who was dismissed before she coached her first game because school administrators realized that she is lesbian. Oh, yeah, and soccer coach Lisa Howe at Belmont University who was dismissed when school administrators found out her partner was having a baby.
Negative recruiting based on perceived sexual orientation is still an issue in women college sports. Sherri Murrell is still the only publicly out lesbian basketball coach in division 1 college hoops. Only 42% of women’s college teams are coached by women these days. That makes it difficult for lesbian coaches to come out if they think it might jeopardize their jobs or their ability to recruit which will also jeopardize their jobs.
Maybe we do not see the same level of anti-gay name-calling in women’s sports that we do in men’s sports, but it is there. Among softball players you might have noticed an increase in hair ribbons worn during games? There is a saying among women softball players, “No bow? Lesbo.” One softball player told me about a straight teammate who freaked out when she realized that she forgot to bring her bow to an away game. What kind of welcoming climate do you think that makes for a gay softball player?
I could go on, but I hope you see my point: Megan Rapinoe’s coming out matters. We still have prejudice and discrimination to fight in women’s sports. Let’s not forget that it still takes courage and a willingness to be in the spotlight for something other than your athletic ability for an athlete who is actively competing to come out, female or male. Thank you, Megan. Let’s hope your coming out empowers more LGBT athletes and coaches to do the same.
We still have work to do in women’s and men’s sports before any athlete, male or female, coming out is not a big deal.