December 18, 1998
The brief history of gay athletes
Bill Tilden, who does not hide his homosexuality, wins the men's singles title at Wimbledon. He goes on to win two more Wimbledon titles, seven U.S. championships, and leads U.S. teams to seven Davis Cup victories. In 1950, a survey of sportswriters names Tilden the greatest tennis player of the half-century. He dies in 1953.
Tom Waddell, a 30-year-old Army physician, places sixth in the Olympic decathlon. Waddell, who is openly gay, becomes increasingly involved in gay politics. In 1976, Waddell and his partner Charles Deaton are the first gay men to be featured in the "Couples" section of People magazine. Five years later, Waddell forms San Francisco Arts and Athletics to plan the first "Gay Olympic Games."
David Kopay, an NFL running back who played for five teams (San Francisco, Detroit, Washington, New Orleans, Green Bay) between 1964-72, becomes the first professional team-sport athlete to come out -- doing so three years after retiring. He admits his homosexuality during an interview with the now-defunct Washington Star.
Billie Jean King is "outed" when ex-lover Marilyn Barnett sues her for "galimony" while she is married to Larry King. King is currently preparing to launch her own Billie Jean Foundation that will support gay and lesbian youths.
Martina Navratilova publicly reveals that she is a lesbian during an interview with the New York Daily News.
The first Gay Olympic Games takes place in San Francisco.
Bob Paris wins the Mr. America and Mr. Universe bodybuilding titles. In 1989, he reveals his homosexuality to the bodybuilding community during an interview with Ironman magazine. He also weds his long-time partner Rod Jackson-Paris and discusses the marriage on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Ed Gallagher, an offensive lineman for the University of Pittsburgh from 1977-79, jumps from a dam 12 days after his first sexual encounter with another man. He survives but is left a paraplegic. Gallagher says that before his suicide attempt, he had become unable to reconcile his image of himself as an athlete with gay urges. He later admits that the incident forced him to come to grips with his sexuality: "I was more emotionally paralyzed then, than I am physically now."
Jerry Smith, a tight end with the Washington Redskins from 1965-77, dies of AIDS complications. Smith never acknowledged that he was gay, but in David Kopay's autobiography, Smith was described as his first love.
Dave Pallone, a National League umpire, is fired for his alleged involvement with a teenage sex ring. The charges are deemed groundless and the investigation is dropped. According to Pallone, the real reason he was fired was the fact that he was gay. He had privately come out to then-National League President Bart Giamatti, who caved in to pressure from National League owners who called for Pallone's firing. According to his widow, it was a decision Giamatti regretted.
Bruce Hayes, an Olympic swimmer who won a gold medal in 1984 as a member of the 800-meter freestyle relay, comes out publicly at the Gay Games and wins seven gold medals in competition.
Justin Fashanu, a top soccer player in Britain, reveals that he is gay. He is the first athlete in a team sport to come out during his athletic career. After publicly coming out, Fashanu was described by others as "erratic." At one point, he makes the claim, which he eventually retracts, that he had sex with two British cabinet ministers. Fashanu commits suicide in 1998 at the age of 36. His body is found hanging in an abandoned garage in East London. At the time, he was wanted in the U.S. on charges of sexually assaulting a teenager in Maryland.
Rene Portland, Penn State University women's basketball coach, states that she has a policy of forbidding lesbians from playing on her team.
Matthew Hall, a figure skater on the Canadian National Team, comes out.
Roy Simmons, an offensive guard for the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins from 1979-83, reveals he is gay during an appearance on The Phil Donahue Show.
David Slattery, general manager of the Washington Redskins in the early 1970's, comes out.
Glenn Burke, former outfielder with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland A's who was known for popularizing the high five, comes out publicly during an interview. He was released from his contract with the A's in 1979, ending his career at age 26. During the same interview in which he admits his homosexuality, Burke says he believes he was traded from the Dodgers because management suspected his was gay. By the early 1990s, Burke was living on the streets in the Bay area, plagued by personal problems and a drug addiction. He dies of AIDS complications in 1995.
Gay Games IV is held in New York City. The event attracts more than 11,000 participants in 31 events, making it the largest athletic competition in history. In a waiver of U.S. policy, Attorney General Janet Reno allows HIV-positive individuals from outside the United States to enter the country, without special permits, to attend the Games.
Greg Louganis, four-time Olympic gold medalist in diving who becomes HIV-positive, comes out in public at the Gay Games.
Missy Giove, an openly lesbian mountain biker, wins her first world title. Considered the Michael Jordan of her sport, she subsequently wins back-to-back world titles in 1996 and '97.
Ian Roberts, one of Australia's most popular rugby players, poses nude for a gay magazine. In the same issue, Roberts speaks about being "part of a different group ... an outsider." He becomes the first major sports figure in Australia to come out. Roberts soon becomes a fixture at a variety of gay events, and his endorsements increase.
Muffin Spencer-Devlin, an 18-year LPGA veteran, speaks about being a lesbian in the March 18 issue of Sports Illustrated.
Rudy Galindo, the national men's skating champion, discusses being a gay man in the book Inside Edge: A Revealing Journey Into the Secret World of Figure Skating. Doug Mattis, another professional skater, comes out not long afterward.
David Pichler and Patrick Jeffrey, two openly gay U.S. divers, compete in the Atlanta Olympics.
Michael Muska, a former track-and-field coach at Auburn and Northwestern, is named athletic director at Oberlin College. Muska is the first openly gay man to hold such a position in college sports.
Paul Priore, a former New York Yankees clubhouse assistant, files a lawsuit on July 29 against Yankee pitchers Jeff Nelson and Mariano Rivera and former Yankee pitcher Bob Wickman. Priore claims that he was humiliated with gay-bashing remarks, harassed and threatened with sexual assault. He also says he was fired because he has contracted the AIDS virus.
Greg Louganis, in a special Goodwill Games edition of New York 1 News' nightly sports program, says that several athletes in professional team sports have asked him for advice about going public with their homosexuality.
Brian Orser, former world figure skating champion and two-time Canadian Olympic silver medalist, is revealed in November as gay in an palimony suit filed by an ex-boyfriend. In an affadavit in which he argued to keep the suit's documents sealed, Orser says, "Other skaters, both Canadian and American, guard their gayness closely because of the likely impact of public disclosure on their careers."
Sources: The Advocate, ESPN.