The sports world has the ability to move us in more than one way: By great performances that inspire and by the way in which athletes use platforms created by their performances for the common good. Probably the best-known example of this today is Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback whose decision to take a knee during the national anthem got him a de facto ban from the NFL but earned him a national anti-racist and anti-violence platform that is only gaining steam.
Queer athletes have been using their platforms for years to boost the fight for visibility and equality. Think of Renée Richards, the trans pro tennis player who came out way back in the '70s. Think of the tennis greats Martina Navratilova and Billy Jean King who came out shortly thereafter, and remain forces for good to this day.
Then there's former NFLer Dave Kopay who came out in 1975, just a few years after the first pride marches. In the '80s Glenn Burke, the young black baseball star, talked about being forced out of the game simply for being honest about who he is. The list of athletes who did the right thing goes on and on to this day, despite the fact that there have never been openly gay players in the four major American pro leagues, a lasting shame.
But there is reason for hope. A new generation of athletes are coming out as early as high school and college. For a world thirsting for representation and for a message of equality in a difficult time of violence and protest, these five athletes and ex-athletes have managed to impress both for their athletic prowess and for their courage in speaking up on issues ranging from Black Lives Matter to queer erasure in pro sports--despite the dangers that might entail in 2020 America.
2. Kaitlyn Long
Kaitlyn Long came out as bisexual in an interview with Outsports last year while starring in track and field at the University of Minnesota. Not even a year later, she has dedicated herself to support the daily protest in Minneapolis after the murder of George Floyd. Queerty caught up with the 22-year-old for an update.
What was your initial reaction when you learned of the killing?
I don’t think there are words to describe the emotions I felt when I heard about the murder. I was incredibly sad, angry, and heartbroken. I felt hopeless and it was very hard for me to function and go back to normal day to day activities.
What actions are you taking?
I have been focused on trying to educate people on the meaning behind the protests. Although the protests started in response to the murder of George Floyd, I think it’s important that people know why we are protesting. The fight for equality is not a new fight at all. But with newer resources like cellphones and social media, I’m helping share information, pictures, and videos, all of which inspire people to take action. I am also raising donations to buy supplies for families in need and for people involved in protesting.
What do you think of the threat to call in the military to cities like Minneapolis?
We are protesting peacefully, so to bring in more weapons and military personnel is not only unnecessary, but it is also triggering to many people.
Why is it important for athletes to speak out?
As athletes, we have a platform, and it is important to use our platform to speak out for what’s right. It’s very important to me that I speak out against the injustices that the Black community faces on a daily basis. I want people to understand that being Black in America is not easy and that our struggles are real and we need to start making real changes.
These protests are taking place during the 50th anniversary of the first pride march, which at the time was more protest than celebration.
It’s great to see it all come full circle. What started pride was actually [the Stonewall] riots against police brutality in the community, which was started by Black trans women. It feels like history, in a way, is repeating itself and I hope that we can come together to enact real change again.
Any other thoughts?