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Sports & Coming out: a difficult relationship

NSS - New Sport Side

Sports & Coming out: a difficult relationship  NSS - New Sport Side

The Mancini/Sarri affaire had the "merit" to bring back to light a spiny and unfortunately still unresolved question: the acceptance of sexuality in the sport world.
Sexual coming outs have sometimes costed the career (and once the life) to some talented athletes, we retrace their brave stories here:


Justin Fashanu

Born in the suburbs of London, Justin Fashanu was a player of great talent. His move to the Nottingham Forest made history since he's been the first black player to be transfered with a budget of 1 million pounds, and thanks to this upgrade Justin also earned several calls from the Youth National Team. None of this, however, served to avoid the problems Fashanu had to face when, in the early 80s, rumours began to spread that he attended gay clubs.

In 1990 he came out, and this destroyed his life. Marginalisation, problems with the law and then the worst epilogue: suicide, in 1998. He was just 33 but he feared "not to be able to face a fair trial because of my sexuality", was found written in a note. 


Robbie Rogers

Robbie Rogers announced his homosexuality through his blog. It was 2013 and Robbie was one of the best promises of American football, just back from a disappointing season at Leeds, England. Simultaneously, he decided to leave the sport, worried that his story could become a kind of attraction for the media. "I don't want you to interview me at every game wondering what happened just because I'm gay" he said at the end of a letter that began with "I'm a soccer player, I'm Christian, and I'm gay" in that order, to show other people how much his sexuality was affecting his career. After a year of stop, however, Robbie came back to play in the Los Angeles Galaxy. He wrote a book about his experience, called Coming out to play.


Jason Collins

That year Rogers followed the example of Jason Collins, professional NBA player who came out on the pages of Sports Illustrated becoming the first player in a major American league to be openly gay. His opening has been regarded by many as the first real step in the relationship between homosexuality and sport, getting support from some of the most influential people in both basketball (like Kobe Bryant) and politics (with Michelle and Barack Obama in first line).

The normality with Collins approached the theme struck everyone, bringing Martina Navratilova to call him a "game changer". He changed his jersey number, choosing 98 to honour the memory of Matthew Shepard, an American student beaten, tortured and killed in 1998 precisely because of his sexual orientation.


Michael Sam

Michael Sam's story made everyone fall into the pre-Collins era's depression. Michael has been a strong football player for the University of Missouri State, until when, in 2014, he declared himself eligible for the draft, and was considered as one of the likely candidates for the first choices. In the February of the same year Sam decided to declare his homosexuality live on ESPN.

He's been then drafted in the seventh round, disattending expectations and reinforcing the sexual prejudice in professional sports. After a trial period in the Dallas Cowboys, and a short period in Canada, last summer Sam has decided to stop playing, denouncing psychological problems.


Martina Navrativola

Martina Navrativola is universally recognized as one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Over two hundred weeks in the top of the WTA rankings (both individual and double, unique in history) have made her a genuine legend. In 1981, her coming-out was highly controversial, Martina released an interview with the New York Dailly News about her bisexuality, but asked it not to be published until she (and her partner) felt ready about it.

The journalist didn't respect the agreement, forcing Navrativola to release a series of interviews and statements afterwards. The WTA rankings of which Navrativola was many times number 1 was founded by a true pioneer in the fight against sexism and the relationship between sexuality and sport: Billie Jean King, the first woman to have done outing in sports history.


Cover picture: William Bouguereau, Equality before death, 1848