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Martina Navratilova: Coming ‘full circle’

Navratilova on why the Sochi games must go on

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Martina Navratilova, tennis, gay news, Washington Blade, sports
Martina Navratilova, tennis, gay news, Washington Blade, sports

Martina Navratilova came out in 1981 and lost endorsement deals for her bold stance. (Photo courtesy of John Wright Photo)

Martina Navratilova broke more than one glass ceiling during her career.

She won 18 Grand Slam singles titles – including nine women’s singles championships at Wimbledon during her time on the tennis circuit that spanned more than three decades from 1975 to her official retirement in 2006. Navratilova also won 31 major women’s doubles and 10 major mixed doubles titles.

She also made history in 1981 as one of the first professional athletes who came out as gay.

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Navratilova, 56, told the Washington Blade during an interview that fans had a mixed reaction to her decision to publicly disclose her sexual orientation.

“I’d get some ovation from some,” the retired Czech-born tennis champion said, noting she didn’t receive endorsement deals after she came out. “From some they would just not clap at all and some would be whistling and booing.”

Navratilova credited positive media coverage over the last decade with improving the way LGBT athletes are treated.

“Back then it was people who cheered me on that were looked at funny, so it’s just totally come around,” she said. “I didn’t know how bad it was in the stands until I met some people that were my fans back in the day and they’re like, ‘you had no idea what people used to say,’ so it’s nice to know that it’s kind of full circle. People couldn’t get away with that stuff anymore.”

Navratilova spoke to the Blade a few weeks after former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins came out as gay in a Sports Illustrated op-ed.

“His coming out will have a positive impact on an untold amount of lives,” she said. “It’s just adding to the groundswell of acceptance.”

Collins’ representatives have declined the Blade’s requests to interview him.

Collins described Navratilova as “one of my heroes” during an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos shortly after he came out. He also said she is one of his role models.

“You never know how you affect somebody in what way and it was just really nice to know just by being who I am made a difference — a positive difference in somebody else,” Navratilova said, noting she and Collins have exchanged e-mails since he came out. “It’s very empowering and humbling at the same time.”

Navratilova spoke to the Blade shortly after Russian lawmakers unanimously passed a bill by a 436-0 margin that sought to ban the “promotion of homosexuality” to minors. President Vladimir Putin on June 30 signed the so-called gay propaganda measure into law.

Putin also signed a bill that bans foreign same-sex couples and those from countries that allow same-sex marriage from adopting Russian children. Groups that receive funding from outside Russia that do not register as “foreign agents” under a 2012 law face a fine of up to 500,000 rubles (or $15,220.)

“I feel like Putin’s just trying to go against whatever the West is doing,” Navratilova said. “If the West would be bad about gays, he would have gay marriage, but because the West is good with the gays — or getting better, he goes the other way.”

Navratilova is among the current and former LGBT professional athletes who oppose calls to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi over Russia’s gay rights record. Others include Olympic diver Greg Louganis, who was unable to compete in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow because the U.S. boycotted the games over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan the year before; figure skater Johnny Weir and former George Washington University basketball player Kye Allums.

Blake Skjellerup, a gay speed skater from New Zealand, plans to wear a rainbow pin during the Sochi games.

Navratilova said Russia shouldn’t “have gotten the Olympics in the first place,” but stressed she “never believed in boycotts.” She referenced the gay advocacy groups that boycotted Colorado after voters in 1992 approved a constitutional amendment that barred the state from enacting anti-gay discrimination laws to further prove her point.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck it down in 1996 in the Romer v. Evans decision.

“It’s more effective to get in people’s faces and prove them wrong rather than run away,” Navratilova said. “To me a boycott kind of runs away from the problem.”

She was also a Tennis Channel commentator during the men’s final at the French Open in early June when opponents of France’s same-sex marriage law interrupted the match between Spanish tennis players Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer. Navratilova said the shirtless protester who ran onto the court with a flare in his hand near Nadal reminded her of the man who stabbed Monica Seles during a German tennis match in 1993.

“You’re like holy shit, you’re still not safe on the tennis court,” she said. “On top of that, it’s these asshole protesters who have nothing better to do but complain about gay people having the same rights as they do.”

Navratilova also recalled seeing some of the more than 100,000 people who marched against France’s same-sex marriage law in Paris on May 26 — three days before the first gay couple legally tied the knot in the country. Opponents of nuptials for same-sex couples also gathered along portions of the Tour de France route last month to protest the statute.

“I couldn’t believe the masses of people who were out protesting against something that doesn’t affect them in any way,” Navratilova said, referring to the May 26 march in the French capital. “To really see real people that are so emotionally invested in denying you equality is really disconcerting.”

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Sports

Gay men challenge Qatar death penalty for homosexuality

Country to host 2022 World Cup

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Dr. Nasser Mohamed (Photo courtesy of Instagram)

Gay men are blowing the whistle now, two months before the World Cup, demanding the host nation of Qatar change its anti-LGBTQ ways.

The Middle Eastern country where Islam is the state religion will welcome soccer players, coaches and fans from all around the planet, beginning Nov. 20, for matches that will pit nation against nation.

Qatar has promised to welcome LGBTQ foreigners, even as its own people are tortured and put to death for being who they are. 

On Monday, Qatar’s ambassador to Germany got an earful from one of those men at a human rights conference in Frankfurt, hosted by the German Football Association, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Fan representative Dario Minden spoke in English directly to Abdulla bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Thani, about who he is and who he loves, Minden told him to “abolish the death penalty” for homosexuality. 

“I’m a man and I love men. I do — please don’t be shocked — have sex with other men. This is normal,” Minden told Al Thani. “So, please get used to it, or stay out of football. Because the most important rule in football is, football is for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re lesbian, if you’re gay. It’s for everyone. For the boys. For the girls. And for everyone in between. 

“So, abolish the death penalty. Abolish all of the penalties regarding sexual and gender identity,” he said. 

Although organizers promised Al Thani an opportunity to respond, the Associated Press reports that portion of the conference was closed to the public and the news media and was not televised. 

Earlier, Al Thani reportedly complained to those assembled that the issue of human rights was a distraction from the World Cup, even though the event was titled, “Sport and Human Rights.” 

“We all care about human rights,” said Al Thani. “But I would have enjoyed (it) more if I saw some concentration not only on just one subject, but the enjoyment of football and the football effect on people around the world.” 

More than 5,000 miles away in San Francisco, a gay Qatari physician has organized a petition to tell the land of his birth: Love Is Not A Crime. 

Doctor Nasser Mohamed decided to come out in 2010 following a visit to the U.S., and spent his residency in Connecticut before moving to California in 2015. 

Mohamed wrote in an op-ed published by Outsports last month that he has spent the last decade caring for the LGBTQ community in outpatient settings and growing as an activist. 

“Being an LGBT person is a criminal offense in the legal system in Qatarm as is sex between two men. There are state-sponsored conversion-therapy practices, and LGBT-affirming psychotherapy is not offered.” He wrote how law enforcement uses media and chat rooms to find, jail and punish people for being LGBTQ. 

“Visibility of the local LGBT community in Qatar, and the exposure of their treatment, are absolutely essential,” Mohamed wrote. “I am doing my part by speaking up.”

Editor’s note: Find out about Mohamed’s petition by clicking here. He is also raising money through a GoFundMe account to provide him with funding for his activism as well as security and protection.

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Sports

Carl Nassib returns to Tampa

Former Las Vegas Raiders defensive end came out as gay in June 2021

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Carl Nassib (Screenshot courtesy of YouTube/KUVV Fox 5 in Las Vegas)

Carl Nassib, who made headlines in June 2021 when he became the NFL’s first out gay active player, reportedly has signed a one-year contract with his former team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

The 29-year-old defensive end was released by the Las Vegas Raiders in March, and became a free agent. NFL sources said that was due to his contracted salary amount — $7.75 million — and not any reflection on his sexual orientation.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news with a tweet

When Nassib came out last summer, he announced he was donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project, and for Pride Month this year he made a new pledge to help LGBTQ youth. He promised to match donations to the Trevor Project, dollar for dollar, up to $100,000.

Will Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady welcome Nassib?

As Outsports reported, he’s never made any comments about playing with someone gay. Brady’s former New England Patriots teammate Ryan O’Callaghan recalled that before he came out in 2017, following his retirement, there was one time that he missed the team bus and Brady gave him a ride in his car to that day’s practice.

O’Callaghan told Outsports he believes Brady would have “absolutely” accepted him if he had come out at that time.

“Being married to a super model I’m sure he’s met a few gay people in his life,” said O’Callaghan.

Brady wed Brazilian fashion model Gisele Bündchen in 2009.

Legendary Boston sports columnist Steve Buckley of the Athletic came out as gay in 2011 while at the Boston Herald. He told Outsports that Brady has always been friendly and cooperative, even after Buckley came out.

This is the second time around at Raymond James Stadium for Nassib. He played for the Buccaneers for two seasons prior to joining the Raiders in 2020. His NFL career began in 2016 with the Cleveland Browns. 

As Jason Owens reported for Yahoo! Sports, Nassib was far more productive in Tampa as a part-time starter, recording 6.5 sacks in 2018 and six sacks in 2019. The NFL’s website shows he played just 242 defensive snaps and earned 1.5 sacks last season. 

In 86 games including 37 starts, Nassib’s recorded 22 career sacks, 164 tackles, 53 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles.

In addition to Brady, Nassib’s new teammates are Akiem Hicks and William Gholston at defensive end and outside linebackers Shaquil Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. Given that the Buccaneers finished seventh in the NFL in sacks last season with 47, Nassib will be expected to improve Tampa Bay’s chances when their season begins on Sept. 11 in Dallas.

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Federal judge temporarily blocks anti-trans youth sports law in Indiana

The injunction requires that A.M., a 10 -year-old trans girl, must be allowed to rejoin her school’s all-girls softball team

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On Tuesday Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana issued an preliminary injunction that blocked an Indiana law that prevents trans youth from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity.

The injunction requires that A.M., a 10 -year-old trans girl, must be allowed to rejoin her school’s all-girls softball team while litigation continues.  

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit in April, on behalf of A.M., challenging House Enrolled Act 1041, which bans transgender girls from participating in school sports. 

Ken Falk, legal director at the ACLU of Indiana, issued the following statement: 

“When misinformation about biology and gender is used to bar transgender girls from school sports it amounts to the same form of sex discrimination that has long been prohibited under Title IX, a law that protects all students – including trans people – on the basis of sex.  

“We are pleased that Judge Magnus-Stinson has recognized this and required that A.M. be allowed to play on her school’s softball team.  

“If other students are being denied the right to join a sports team at their school due to their transgender status, we encourage them to contact the ACLU of Indiana immediately.” 

This past May, the Indiana Legislature had voted to overturn Republican Governor Eric Holcomb’s March veto of HB 1041, a measure that bans transgender girls from competing on girls’ K-12 sports teams in the state.

The vote to override the veto means that this law makes Indiana the 8th state to ban trans youth from playing sports in 2022 by legislative action — and the 16th in the country.

In his veto message sent to House Speaker Todd Huston’s office, Holcomb said the bill presumed a problem already existed that required the state to intervene and it implied the goals of consistency and fairness in girls’ sports were not being met.

“After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim even if I support the overall goal,” Holcomb wrote.

“Governor Holcomb was the second governor this year to uphold the dignity of transgender and nonbinary youth, and veto an attempt by lawmakers to write them out of existence. While those young people continue to face unrelenting political attacks, the Indiana legislature voted to override his act of courage and compassion, pushing these marginalized youth even further to the sidelines,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project.

“This bill claimed to solve a problem of ‘fairness’ in school sports in Indiana that didn’t exist, but its negative impacts on the mental health and well-being of trans and nonbinary youth — young people who already face disproportionate rates of bullying, depression, and suicide — are very real. To the young people in Indiana watching tonight: you are stronger than they know. We are here for you, we will fight for you, and we are not going anywhere.”

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