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‘They’re cowards’ — gay athletes still refuse to come out

‘Big five’ men’s leagues embrace LGBT inclusion, so why aren’t more pros leaving the closet?



football_helmet_insert_by_BigstockMajor League Soccer player Robbie Rogers of the Los Angeles Galaxy and Minor League Baseball player David Denson of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, currently are the only openly gay players associated with the five major U.S. sports leagues for men.

Yet despite the longstanding absence of out gay players, LGBT sports advocates say the big five leagues in recent years have adopted an unprecedented array of LGBT-supportive policies and outreach programs.

The leagues include Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and Major League Soccer. The Washington Blade also reviewed the policies of the United States Tennis Association, which has adopted LGBT-related outreach programs and tournaments.

Although the advocates acknowledge the LGBT supportive policies of the five leagues haven’t had an immediate effect of prompting more gay players to come out, they say the policies and programs have laid the groundwork for gay players to come out in the coming years.

“I would say that almost every league has a non-discrimination policy and every league that we work with has an inclusive policy,” said Wade Davis, a gay former NFL player, in referring to the big five leagues’ LGBT programs and policies.

Davis serves as executive director of the You Can Play Project, a New York-based group that advocates for LGBT inclusion in professional sports. Among other things, he conducts LGBT training sessions on behalf of You Can Play for players, coaches and upper management officials at several of the leagues, including the NFL.

Wade Davis, openly gay, gay news, Washington Blade

‘I would say that almost every league has a non-discrimination policy and every league that we work with has an inclusive policy,’ said Wade Davis, a gay former NFL player. (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

He says nearly all of the players and coaches he talks to have expressed strong support for treating a gay player as a fully accepted and respected member of their teams if and when a gay player comes out.

The national advocacy group Athlete Ally, founded by former college wrestler Hudson Taylor, has lined up more than 100 professional athletes who, like Taylor, have become straight allies and “ambassadors” of their respective sports for the purpose of advocating on behalf of LGBT inclusion in sports. Among those who have signed on as ally ambassadors are players in each of the big five major men’s sports leagues, including the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball. Taylor has said the players who sign on as ally-ambassadors do so with the full support of their teams and respective leagues.

In addition to adopting policies and programs aimed at supporting out gay players, Major League Baseball, the Super Bowl, the U.S. Tennis Association, and the Professional Golf Association recently have expanded their LGBT inclusion policies to welcome LGBT-owned businesses.

In a development that drew attention in the professional sports world, Major League Baseball announced in March of this year that it entered into a first-of-its-kind partnership with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. The partnership is aimed at helping LGBT-owned businesses to become official suppliers of products and services for MLB.

NGLCC President Justin Nelson said the partnership would enable hundreds of LGBT-owned businesses like construction companies and equipment suppliers to compete for business with the league and its baseball teams.

Nelson has said the partnership with MLB comes after his organization entered into similar partnerships with the NFL’s Super Bowl, the U.S. Tennis Association, and the PGA.

NGLCC has served as a clearinghouse for corporations and local and federal government agencies interested in reliable business suppliers and contractors by certifying LGBT-owned businesses deemed to be capable of providing products and services. The certification qualifies them to compete as an LGBT/minority owned business.


openly gay, gay news, Washington Blade

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred this year promoted gay former MLB player Billy Bean to the newly created position of Vice President for Social Responsibility and Inclusion. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBT sports advocates point to Major League Baseball as one of the most LGBT supportive of the big five professional men’s sports leagues. In July 2014, then Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig hired gay former Major League player Billy Bean as a consultant on LGBT issues under the title of Ambassador for Inclusion.

After assessing Bean’s work in organizing and conducting LGBT-related training sessions and meetings with players, managers, and coaches in his first year and a half on the job, Selig’s successor, Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred in January of this year promoted Bean to the newly created position of Vice President for Social Responsibility and Inclusion.

“In his elevated role, Bean will be responsible for many of the League’s social responsibility initiatives, including oversight of MLB’s Workplace Code of Conduct and anti-bullying programming, while continuing to facilitate inclusion strategies with a focus on the LGBT community,” MLB said in a statement at the time of Bean’s promotion.

“Billy has really taken his role and made it very, very important and special for us,” Michael Teevan, MLB’s vice president for communication, told the Washington Blade. “He’s an amazing human being. We have really enjoyed working with him.”

Teevan said Manfred named another former MLB player, Curtis Pride, who’s deaf, to replace Bean as the league’s Ambassador for Inclusion. Pride isn’t gay but has been an advocate for minorities in sports, and Teevan said he will continue the work Bean started in the ambassador’s position.

Teevan said as far as he knows, David Denson is the only current out gay player in MLB system. He noted that Denson talked to Bean before deciding to publicly disclose he’s gay while playing for his minor league team associated with the Milwaukee Brewers system.

Sean Conroy, another minor league player affiliated with an independent league not part of the MLB system, also recently came out as gay.

Teevan was asked why he thought an out gay player has yet to emerge on a major league team despite the MLB’s LGBT-supportive policies and programs.

“What I would say is we would love it if it happens and if the player wants to do it we tried to build a foundation that would make it comfortable to do so,” he said.

Teevan added, “We have tried to make it clear that baseball is inclusive and that it’s a game for everybody and that we tried to install the attitude that if a player wanted to make such an announcement he would get absolute support and respect.”


The NFL’s stated commitment to LGBT inclusion is said to have been first observed in August 2011 when it agreed to a labor contract with the NFL Players Association that added sexual orientation to the league’s existing non-discrimination policy.

“There will be no discrimination in any form against any player by the Management Council, any Club or by the NFLPA because of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA,” the contract states.

Davis of You Can Play has been credited with playing an important role in promoting LGBT inclusiveness within the NFL since the labor contract was signed, including following two developments that some LGBT activists viewed as signs of homophobia.

In February 2013, three college football players participating the NFL’s annual tryout gathering in Indianapolis, where NFL scouts and coaches evaluate prospective candidates for the NFL draft, told the media they were asked if they like girls. Some criticized the action as an attempt to screen out gay players.

The development prompted New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to invite NFL officials to a meeting where he brokered an agreement by the NFL to conduct year-round seminars for players and officials involved in hiring players that discuss the league’s non-discrimination policies, according to media accounts of the meeting.

Notices of the NFL’s non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, including the ban on sexual orientation discrimination, would be posted in locker rooms throughout the NFL under terms of the agreement.

Davis said You Can Play quickly approached the Atlanta Falcons with suggestions on diversity training earlier this year after news surfaced that a coach asked one of the players about his sexual orientation.

“They will do about two or three events to make sure their players know and their coaches know that this is something that’s not tolerable and there needs to be education that’s happening on their team,” Davis said.

For the most part, Davis said, NFL teams and players have engaged in positive activities on the LGBT front, including a parking lot tailgate event designated as You Can Play Day with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He noted that last year, his group arranged for New York Giants players to visit an LGBT youth service agency in Manhattan, the Hetrick-Martin Institute, where they met and spoke with LGBT youth.

A short time later, We Can Play arranged for a group of about 30 LGBT youth to attend a Giants game, where they were invited onto the field before the game started to visit with the players. Davis said it was part of his group’s ongoing “High Five” events associated with NFL games.


Similar to the NFL, the NBA adopted a sexual orientation non-discrimination policy in 2011 but went a step further by announcing that players making anti-LGBT slurs on the basketball court would be subjected to a fine of $50,000.

LGBT sports advocates praised the NBA and its players for expressing strong support for then-Washington Wizards player Jason Collins when he came out as gay in April 2013, becoming the first out gay person in any of the big five men’s sports leagues. Collins, at age 35 and after 13 years as an NBA player with several teams, announced his retirement from basketball in November 2014.

Earlier this year, the NBA, in partnership with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, embarked on a campaign to sell LGBT Pride Month T-shirts in which the logo of every NBA team was altered to show a rainbow design. The NBA donated the proceeds from the sales to GLSEN, which advocates for LGBT youth in the nation’s schools.

“Support from professional sports for LGBT people has been one of the biggest cultural developments in the past five years, and the NBA has consistently led the way,” GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said.

The NBA was further praised by GLSEN and other LGBT advocacy organizations last month when it announced it was withdrawing its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte, N.C., to protest the approval by the North Carolina Legislature earlier this year of an anti-LGBT law known as HB-2.


The NHL, which has a sexual orientation non-discrimination policy, in 2013, became another one of the big five major league sports for men to enter into a partnership with You Can Play. Hockey officials said the partnership formalized and advanced the league’s existing commitment to inclusiveness in sports.

“The NHL sets the standard for professional sports when it comes to LGBT outreach and we are incredibly grateful for their help and support,” said Philadelphia Fliers scout Patrick Burke, co-founder of the You Can Play Project.

“While we believe that our actions in the past have shown our support for the LGBT community, we are delighted to reaffirm through this joint venture with the NHL Players’ Association that the official policy of the NHL is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Bettman was referring to the NHL Players’ Association joining the NHL in its partnership with You Can Play.

Earlier this year, the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation, which is affiliated with the Oilers team, announced it had become the founding partner of Pride Tape, an NHL program aimed at supporting LGBT equality by asking players to attach rainbow colored tape to their hockey sticks.

“Pride tape is described as a badge of support from the teammates, coaches, parents and pros to young LGBTQ players,” a statement released by organizers of the project says.


Similar to the NHL and other major sports leagues, Major League Soccer has adopted a sexual orientation non-discrimination policy and a partnership with You Can Play. The partnership with MLS and the other leagues involves an agreement where MLS invites a You Can Play representative, usually Wade Davis, to conduct LGBT-related training sessions for players, coaches, and other league employees.


The U.S. Tennis Association bills itself as the “national governing body for the sport of tennis and the recognized leader in promoting and developing the sport’s growth on every level in the United States, from local communities to the crown jewel of the professional game, the U.S. Open.”

The USTA’s website includes a sweeping diversity and inclusion statement adopted in 2012 that calls for “removing barriers to allow us to be inclusive so that tennis reflects all of America.” Although the statement doesn’t specifically mention LGBT people or any other minority, other sections of the website promote specific LGBT-related programs and tournaments.

Among them is the announcement in February of this year of an expansion of a first-of-its-kind same-gender couple’s tennis tournament launched in Palm Springs, Calif.

“The USTA is proud to recognize this tournament as an official USTA National Championship event,” said Katrina Adams, the USTA board chair and CEO and president, in a statement. “We were thrilled at the success of last year’s inaugural event, and sincerely hope that giving the event National Championship status will allow it to continue to grow and attract even more same-gender couples to the competition,” she said.

Cyd Ziegler, co-founder and co-editor of the LGBT sports news website OutSports, points out that the USTA’s same-sex couples tournaments are limited to the association’s amateur division and that the USTA has no same-sex couples tournaments in its professional tennis division.

“In the history of tennis they’ve never had a ranked [male] player come out publicly,” said Ziegler in referring to professional tennis tournaments.

A USTA spokesperson couldn’t immediately be reached to determine whether the USTA has plans for a professional tennis tournament for same-sex couples.

Why don’t more gay athletes come out?

Ziegler, a recognized expert on LGBT sports issues, and You Can Play’s Davis agree that the big five men’s sports leagues have made dramatic changes in recent years to become open to LGBT athletes. But the two, like many LGBT sports observers, disagree sharply over why more gay athletes don’t come out in those leagues.

“Tomorrow somebody could decide to come out or could be caught literally with his pants down,” Ziegler told the Blade. “All professional sports leagues are quote-unquote ready for an out player. But the gay athletes are just afraid. They’re cowards.”

He added, “The definition of a coward is somebody who lets fear govern his actions. And the gay athletes in the major men’s professional sports today are cowards. And even worse than the athletes that are active in sports are the dozens or hundreds of gay athletes who are retired who won’t come out,” he said.

“I mean, they have nothing to lose in the sports world. And for them to not come out really shows the disdain for the mental health of America’s youth,” especially LGBT youth who look to professional athletes as role models, Ziegler said.

“Cyd is a friend of mine,” Davis said. “But Cyd has never been a professional athlete. And everyone’s coming out experience is very different. Everyone’s experience growing up as a gay person is very, very different,” said Davis.

“So I find it a little disingenuous and a little hard to hear that everyone who’s not out is a coward,” Davis told the Blade.

Davis said he has spoken to closeted gay athletes in recent years and has learned that their individual situations are complex and nuanced.

“You’re not just coming out to your team,” he said. “You have to realize that when you come out on a professional sports team, you still have a family to deal with. So your family situation may be set up in a certain way that you also have to deal with now. Maybe my father is not going to be accepting.”

According to Davis, most of the gay athletes are aware of experiences of other gays who have come out in college sports and the rare cases of someone coming out in professional sports like Jason Collins.

“And what most people don’t understand – I have talked to a lot of closeted players,” Davis said. “And they will tell you as soon as you come out as an openly gay player in a sport you become just that…The focus would be on whether or not this gay person can survive in the locker room,” Davis continued.

“And I don’t know too many athletes I’ve spoken to who want to be engaged in that conversation when at the same time they have to perform on the field or on the court,” he said.

Ziegler praised organizations like You Can Play for working with professional sports leagues to put in place policies and practices that are inclusive of gay players. But he said the sports-related LGBT advocacy groups should also be encouraging more athletes to come out.

“At this point the most important thing any of these advocacy groups can do is identify professional LGBT athletes and work with them to come out publicly. I don’t think any of them are doing that,” he said.

“That’s not our job,” said Davis. “That’s not our responsibility. The responsibility of our organization is to make the culture safe,” he said. “Those players are human beings. They know their lives better than we do. They have agency, which means they have the free will to decide what’s best for their lives.”



Gay Games 11 begin in Hong Kong and Mexico

Registrations are reportedly far below expectations



(Photo courtesy of Gay Games 11 Hong Kong organizing committee.)

Organizers call it the world’s largest inclusive sports, arts and culture event: The 11th Gay Games, delayed by a year and cohosted by the cities of Hong Kong and Guadalajara, Mexico. They got underway Friday, and for the first time in the 40-year history of the games, they are being held in a city in Latin America and another city in Asia. 

More than 2,300 athletes from 45 countries, including the U.S, Britain, South Korea and China are expected to take part in the Hong Kong games, according to organizers. Soccer is the main event this weekend. 

Dodgeball, soccer, swimming, powerlifting and track-and-field are among the events this weekend in Guadalajara, according to that event’s website.

But according to reports, the number of athletes and spectators at both venues is far below the standards set in previous Gay Games.  

These games were originally planned for just one city, Hong Kong, this time last year. The intent was for Gay Games 11 to serve as what organizers called “a beacon of hope” for the LGBTQ community in a Chinese-ruled region that challenges restrictions on gay rights. 

While it is legal to be gay in China and many of its major cities have thriving LGBTQ social scenes, same-sex marriage and adoption by gay people are illegal and there are no legal protections against LGBTQ discrimination.

To many Chinese government officials, being gay is “a malign foreign influence that is stopping youth from getting married and having children,” Darius Longarino, a senior fellow at the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School, recently told NBC News

That and the summer shutdown of the Beijing LGBT center by the government in May, affirmed the decision to divide Gay Games 11 across two continents, which was at first driven by Hong Kong’s strict COVID-19 protocols, as Reuters reported. Organizers postponed the games for 12 months due to the city’s strict COVID-19 protocols, and it was decided to divide the competitions with runner-up bidder Guadalajara in western Mexico.

Despite the locales being more than eight thousand miles apart, organizers have coordinated a series of sporting events under the slogan, “unity in diversity.” 

“Everyone aged 18/+ is welcome to participate,” according to the Hong Kong venue’s website, “regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity or even training level.” 

Inclusion isn’t as much of a problem at this Gay Games as is the lack of participants and spectators.

Original estimates for the 2022 event in Hong Kong was for 12,000 participants, 75,000 spectators and 3,000 volunteers from 100 countries. The 36 events were to include Dragon Boat Racing, Dodgeball and eSports.

But for 2023, Reuters reports registrations fell far below expectations, due in part to ongoing worries about COVID-19 and LGBTQ rights in China and concerns over safety in Guadalajara, where crime and kidnappings are common. 

One week ago, organizers in Guadalajara had registered only 2,458 participants, and Hong Kong had under 2,400, for a combined 4,839 athletes. It’s unheard of for a Gay Games to have fewer than 8,000 participants.

The games were first held in San Francisco in 1982. Organizers boast this is “one of the largest global events of their kind,” according to the Gay Games 11 website, bringing people together” to experience unforgettable moments of joy through a unique combination of sport, community and culture.” 

But according to Reuters, what is bringing people together in Guadalajara are the criminals who prey upon visitors. The city is located in the state of Jalisco, where drug cartels operate freely. 

Wayne Morgan, a senior Australian athlete who has competed in six prior Gay Games, told Reuters he was drugged and robbed last year when he visited Guadalajara for a planning conference related to this year’s games. He said he made his way to the police station and found himself in a long queue of other crime victims, where he was told: “This happens a lot.” 

A spokesperson for the Federation of Gay Games told Reuters the decision to split the event had a “significant impact on registration numbers” but added that the organizers believed the choice of two locations “allows even more people from around the world to celebrate LGBTQ+ sports with us.”

But to Morgan, splitting the host cities was “a mistake” and that low numbers could deter corporate sponsorship in the future.

“In my heart of hearts, I wish the whole thing was canceled and we could skip to Valencia in 2026,” he said. The next games are planned for Valencia, Spain.

Taiwan’s competitors withdrew their registration from the Hong Kong event in August, citing fears their participants could be arrested if they display the island’s flag or use its name. Human rights activists called for the games in Hong Kong to be canceled, accusing organizers of aligning themselves with “pro-authoritarian figures responsible for widespread persecution against the people of Hong Kong.”

In response to the low registration numbers, Hong Kong organizers canceled several events, including field hockey and Rugby 7s as well as some in the category of track-and-field. 

Gay Games 11 runs through Nov. 11.

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Republican governors demand ‘guaranteed’ fairness on trans athletes

Kristi Noem’s joint letter filled with lies, inaccuracies and transphobic claims



Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, anti-trans pundit Riley Gaines and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem meet at the 2023 Republican Governors Association gathering in Aspen, Colo.. (Photo courtesy of Republican Governors Association's Facebook page)

Nine Republican governors, several of whom have signed laws banning transgender student-athletes from competing as their authentic selves, sent a joint letter Monday to the National Collegiate Athletics Association and its Board of Governors about its transgender student-athlete policy.

The first signatory is Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota. She and her fellow GOP governors make it clear they are telling the NCAA to abandon its current policy, which changed in 2022 from allowing trans competitors to compete, to putting the onus on individual sports organizations to decide participation rules. 

Not good enough, say the governors. 

“The NCAA has the chance to guarantee an environment where female college athletes can thrive without the concern of inequities,” the wrote. “We trust that you also want to guarantee just such an environment. But this policy allows the NCAA to avoid responsibility for ensuring the fairness of collegiate sports — therefore it must be changed.”

In addition to Noem, the letter was signed by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas, Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi, Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri, Gov. Greg Gianforte of Montana, Gov. Joe Lomardo of Nevada, Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas and Gov. Mark Gordon of Wyoming. 

Among the many bogus claims and transphobic statements, including labeling out trans NCAA All-American Lia Thomas a “biological male,” the letter misrepresents what happened after Thomas tied with a cisgender competitor, Riley Gaines, at the NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships in Atlanta. In March 2022. The two women tied for fifth place in the 200 freestyle. But the governors’ letter claims Gaines was denied posing with “the first-place trophy that she rightfully earned.” 

Unlike the governors, the Los Angeles Blade was at that event and witnessed the heat, as well as the podium ceremony that followed. Not expecting a tie finish for fifth place, officials handed Gaines a trophy for another event for the photo op following their contest, and chose to give Thomas the fifth place trophy. The NCAA mailed Gaines her trophy at a later date. Gaines never finished first at that event, and has turned her alleged slight at the championships into a national anti-trans media campaign.

The letter goes on to repeat false misogynist claims about Allyson Felix being unable to compete against high school boys, accusations that trans athletes are “average male athletes stealing” the honors due women athletes and falsely claims that the issue of fairness has been determined by science. 

The letter was condemned by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming in a statement Tuesday. 

“Whatever Gov. Gordon and this letter’s cosigners might say, this isn’t about leveling the playing field for student athletes or protecting fairness in women’s sports. If it were, these governors would be tackling the actual threats to women’s sports, such as severe underfunding, lack of media coverage, sexist ideologies that suggest that women and girls are weak, and pay equity for coaches and players,” said Libby Skarin, deputy executive director for the ACLU of Wyoming, in a press release.

“This letter to the NCAA is just another attempt to erase transgender people from society while stirring up support from their base of anti-trans activists with fear-mongering tactics and discriminatory rhetoric that harm some of the most vulnerable people in our state,” Skarin said.

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Ashlyn Harris files for divorce from Ali Krieger

The former U.S. Women’s National Team stars have two children and have been married since 2019, Harris, retired from soccer in 2022



Media reports reveal the former goalkeeper of the U.S. Women’s National Team Ashlyn Harris filed for divorce last month from Ali Krieger, the NWSL Gotham FC defender who is set to retire after Sunday’s match. 

Krieger, 39, and Harris, 37, have been together since 2010 and married in December 2019. They have two children together and according to public court documents filed on Sept. 19 in Seminole County, Fla., they must agree to a parenting plan for Sloane, 2 1/2, and Ocean, 14 months. 

Representatives for Harris and Krieger have not responded to press inquiries. The couple haven’t been seen in an Instagram post together since July. 

They met while playing for the USWNT, where they were both two-time World Cup winners. 

Harris, who retired from soccer in 2022, is now the creative director of Gotham FC and part of an all-woman executive leadership team. Krieger, who has played with the club since she and Harris were traded by Orlando Pride in 2021, will be celebrated by the club for her 17 years of dedication to the sport when she retires following Sunday’s match against the Kansas City Current. 

The couple welcomed their toddler daughter Sloane via adoption just a few months before being traded. In August 2022, they adopted their second baby, their son, Ocean. The Florida court requires Krieger and Harris to agree on child custody, support, non-disparagement and non-harassment terms as well as attend a parenting class for the divorce to proceed. 

In addition to her skills on the pitch, Krieger has used her spotlight and platform to serve as an advocate for pay equity and in support of the LGBTQ+ community. 

“I want to leave the game better than where I found it,” said Krieger upon announcing her plans to retire in March. “I believe we have accomplished a lot since we’ve started. I want to be remembered as being a good person and a good teammate who worked tirelessly to create a space for everyone to feel safe and seen, for speaking up for things that should be better for the younger generation. That’s the legacy I want to leave.”

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