It's 2016, a time of great social progression and acceptance. And, as such, more and more people are finding that they are comfortable expressing their sexuality. It used to be that professional athletes had to hide their sexual orientations in order to avoid the scorn and ridicule of fans and even teammates. Glenn Burke, for example, the first MLB player to come out as gay to his teammates, was never given a fair chance in the league despite being touted as the next Willie Mays. He received limited playing time, was often shunned by teammates, and had to endure derogatory terms being thrown at him by his own manager. Ultimately, Burke believed that he was pushed out of the sport by prejudice.
But that's no longer the case. Or at least things have drastically improved. For example, David Denson, a player in the Milwaukee Brewers farm system felt comfortable enough to come out while still an active player. And star athletes like Abby Wambach don't even feel it's necessary anymore to have to come out--it should just be accepted.
While there is surely still trace amounts of prejudice in the veins of the sports world (just look at Yunel Escobar's boneheaded eyeblack stunt from a few years ago or Daniel Murphy's ignorant comments about MLB Ambassador of Inclusion and gay former player Billy Bean), there's no denying that we've come a long way, and players like Glenn Burke, who put up with homophobic comments so today's athletes wouldn't have to, are to thank for it.
Here's the list of 15 athletes who have come out of the closet, and here's to hoping that more athletes will feel comfortable enough to do so in the future.
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15 Orlando Jordan
Orlando Jordan is a retired wrestler who fought in the WWE and briefly in TNA. A one-time United States Champion, he wrestled for over 15 years. He has overcome a lot throughout his life, including a misdiagnosis of autism as a child and speech difficulties. Jordan, who is married to a woman, has been open about his sexuality for years, letting it be known that he is bisexual. He currently lives in Melbourne, Australia.
14 Abby Wambach
Abby Wambach played a key role in the US Women's team gold medal finishes at the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics. On top of being the team's captain and leader, she is also their all-time leader in scoring. She announced her retirement in 2015, and she leaves as one of the most accomplished soccer players ever (of either gender). Wambach is married to former teammate Sarah Huffman. She has never been shy about her sexuality, and insists that her marriage was not a "coming out" or a political statement, as she believes that such statements no longer need to be made.
13 Kwame Harris
Born in Jamaica but raised in the United States since he was three years old, Kwame Harris attended Stanford University and was picked 26th overall in the 2003 NFL draft. A 6'7" offensive tackle, he played his entire career in northern California for the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders. Harris came out as gay during a CNN interview after a domestic dispute with his boyfriend. He served five days in jail for the incident and was given three years probation.
12 Rosa Mendes
Better known as Rosa Mendes, Milena Roucka is a Canadian professional wrestler currently working with WWE. She has also worked as a valet, a ring announcer, a reality show star, and a model, but her true talent lies in the ring. Mendes, who was previously engaged to wrestler Jackson Andrews before they split following a domestic violence dispute, has stated that she is bisexual. She gave birth to her first child, Jordan Elizabeth, with boyfriend Bobby Schubenski in February 2016.
11 Tom Daley
Tom Daley is an Olympic diver and one of the most recognizable athletes in England. Specializing in the 10 meter platform dive, he took home the bronze in front of his home country at the 2012 Olympics. In 2013, Daley released a video on YouTube talking about his sexual orientation. He said that he had been in a relationship with a man for about a year, and he had “never been happier.” Daley is currently engaged to American screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who won the Oscar for writing the screenplay for Milk, a film about Harvey Milke, a gay rights activist and the first openly gay person elected to public office in the state of California.
10 Billy Bean
No, not Billy Beane the Moneyball guy. This is Billy Bean. Taken by the Detroit Tigers in the fourth round of the 1986 MLB Draft, Bean played in the majors from 1987 to 1995 (not including a brief stint in Japan). He came out as gay shortly after his career ended, and he has since become the league’s first Ambassador for Inclusion. As the Ambassador for Inclusion, his job is to ensure that players like himself are not discriminated against by the league. Bean helped handle the coming out of David Denson, the first openly gay active player in an MLB organization.
9 David Denson
One of Billy Bean’s first orders of action as MLB’s Ambassador of Inclusion was to counsel David Denson as he came out as gay. While other professional baseball players have come out as gay after their careers had ended, Denson’s was significant because he is in the midst of his career. He currently plays for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, a Class A team in the Midwest League representing the Milwaukee Brewers. He still has a long way to go before he makes it to the show, but if he does, he will become the first openly gay man on an active MLB roster.
8 Darren Young
Fred Rosser, who's gone by the name of Darren Young since he signed with the WWE in 2009, is an American professional wrestler. Born in New Jersey, he wrestled in independent circuits throughout the northeast until getting the call to the main stage. His biggest victory to date was taking home the WWE Tag Team Championship. Young, who has been in a relationship since 2011, talked about his sexuality in a 2013 interview. In doing so, he became the first openly gay active wrestler in a major organization.
7 Glenn Burke
Before Billy Bean and David Denson, there was Glenn Burke, helping to pave the way for future gay athletes. Unfortunately, Burke, who played in the 1970s, a less tolerant era, had a tough time as a professional baseball player. Although considered a talented player, many believe that he was not given a fair chance in the league because of his sexuality. He played just four seasons in the majors, batting .237 with 2 home runs and 35 stolen bases. Before dying due to AIDs-related complications in 1995, Burke said, “They can’t ever say now that a gay man can’t play in the majors, because I’m a gay man and I made it.”
6 Ian Thorpe
Ian Thorpe is one of the most accomplished swimmers of all time. He has won nine Olympic medals in total (five gold, three silver, and one bronze), and he has won the third most gold medals for swimmers at the World Championships. His accomplishments have earned him the nickname the "Thorpedo" and have made him one of the most celebrated athletes in Australia. After keeping it a secret from the public for most of his life, Thorpe finally came out as gay in a 2014 interview.
5 Jason Collins
Jason Collins became the first openly gay man in one of the four major North American sports (basketball, football, baseball, and hockey). Before retiring in 2014, Collins played 13 seasons in the NBA, tallying over 2,600 points and 2,700 rebounds. Before turning pro, he set basketball records at Stanford University and was named an All-Pac 10 first team and a third team All-American. He decided to come out as gay near the end of his career, penning an article in a 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated. Players and coaches around the league supported and praised him for making the decision to come out while still an active player.
4 Chris Kanyon
Chris Kanyon was a wrestler who worked for World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling for nearly a decade. Born Chris Klucsarits, he went by the name of Mortis and Kanyon. Unfortunately, his career was cut short by injuries, as he struggled to regain his form and was relegated to lower profile matches. Kanyon was let go from WWE in 2004, at which point he claimed that he had been discriminated against because of his sexuality. This turned out to be a publicity stunt, but he did confirm that he was in fact gay. Tragically, he took his own life in 2010 after a long battle with bipolar disorder.
3 Greg Louganis
Greg Louganis is one of the most recognizable athletes in the LGBTQ community. Over two Olympic appearances, he brought home five medals (four gold and one silver) for the United States, and he was also the only diver ever to score a perfect 10 on an event. Since he came out in his autobiography, Breaking the Surface, Louganis has been an outspoken activist for LGBTQ rights in the world of sports, and he's done a lot to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS, a disease from which he suffers.
2 Michael Sam
Michael Sam was a star defensive end at the University of Missouri. During his senior year, he recorded 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss, which led to him being named an All-American and the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He came out as gay as soon as his college career was over, making him potentially the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL. After a less than stellar performance at the combine, however, his stock fell, and, despite an incredible college career, he was taken late in the draft by the St. Louis Rams. Unfortunately, he did not make the practice roster, and he was later picked up by the Dallas Cowboys. After his NFL aspirations were thwarted, he tried to keep his football career alive by joining the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.
1 Caitlyn Jenner
Before she was Caitlyn, she was Bruce. During an April 2015 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer, Caitlyn Jenner came out to the world as a trans woman. She says that it was something she has dealt with for most of her life, even taking hormone replacement therapy before marrying now ex-wife Kris Jenner. As Bruce, she was an accomplished athlete, taking home the gold for the decathlon at the 1976 Montreal summer Olympics. At the time, Bruce was considered one of—if not the—best overall athlete in the world. Caitlyn is currently the star of her own reality show, I am Cait, which explores her life after coming out as a trans woman.
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