It’s 2023, and today, we are free to wave the rainbow flags as much as we want, especially during this month of June. Despite that, the fact remains that not everyone living in this day and age have it as easy—case in point, public figures. They may be reaping the luxury provided by fame, but to be subject to scrutiny all the time is an utter inconvenience, to say the least.
To be under that microscope while also being a part of the LGBTQ community? Conflict, unfortunately, is imminent. Bring all of that in sports and it’s a whole another level of strife.
Sadly, movers and consumers of sports can be aversive to the stories and struggles of our LGBTQ friends. Remember the presence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement during the NBA Bubble? That created a lot of division. What if the Bubble had a rainbow theme? Some would have lost it.
There are varying answers to why this still happens—which this author cannot discuss in this piece. Just put it the same way we put it above: not everyone can just wave the rainbow flag as easy as others.
Professional athletes are among those who face this humongous hurdle. Questions about possibly disrupting the locker room or creating a stir among fan bases haunt them. But, in the name of their own sanity or of the movement, they pushed forth.
In this piece, let’s look back at the stories of some male athletes around the world who came out.
A popular male athlete who recently came out as homosexual is Jakub Jankto, whom international newspaper The Guardian even branded as the highest-profile active male footballer to come out.
"Like everybody else. I also want to live my life in freedom, without fears, without prejudice, without violence, but with love,” the 27-year-old said in a video posted on his social media back in February.
“I am homosexual and I no longer want to hide myself."
Clearly, the Czech midfielder wasn’t doing it for himself. As his video posted a disclaimer that the video is meant “to encourage others.” Jankto got a lot of support, including from his then-club Sparta Prague and the Premier League.
These days, the former Getafe player is taking a break from football. He cited health reasons when he disclosed the move back in April.
It’s been a decade since Jason Collins revealed he is gay. The hope was it will pave the way for other athletes in the four major USA leagues—NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL—to come out, but only Carl Nassib of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers followed suit.
Collins may have retired from the NBA a year later after he came out, but that had more to do with age than his sexuality. Today, he remains a respected voice in sports—and a brand ambassador, too.
“I’m living proof that sponsorships are not at stake. Ten years later I’m still a Nike athlete,” Collins told Sports Illustrated in an interview last April, when he was asked about his life after coming out.
Actually, it was a milestone for Collins that he thought he should have done earlier.
“When I came out, it was like I’d ripped off a Band-Aid. There was so much support from fans and teammates, so many new friends that I made, and I thought, Why didn’t I do this sooner?" The former Brooklyn Nets center said.
Currently a member of the Seattle Thunderbirds in the Western Hockey League, Luke Prokop remains a prospect for the NHL team Nashville Predators. When he came out in 2021, he became the first ever active player under NHL contract to do so.
“I believe that living my authentic life will allow me to bring my whole self to the rink and improve my chances of fulfilling my dreams,” the hockey player said via Instagram then.
It’s a step that if taken today will only help tomorrow, says the hopeful athlete.
“Once other players start to coming out it won’t be this huge big deal anymore,” Prokop said in a December 2022 interview on The Players’ Tribune.
If you search for John Amaechi on social media, you may see more of his work as a psychologist than his career as an NBA player. It’s amazing how the 6-foot-10 former athlete has carved a productive second career after eight years as a pro hooper, five of which he spent in the NBA.
For a guy who is considered as the first NBA player to come out—which he did in 2007 or four years after he retired—Amaechi has become more than just a voice for equality, as he is now an authority in topics of fighting racism and leadership (he even wrote a book about one, titled The Promises of Giants).
What’s easy to overlook in Amaechi’s story is that 2007 is worlds apart from 2023 when it comes to acceptance for the LGBTQ community. Nonetheless, he killed it then. And he’s still killing it today.
Collins, Jankto, and Prokop all know what it’s like to come out while being an active player, still perhaps none faced more pressure than Nassib, because he was the first to do so in the NFL—arguably a beloved league in the US.
In his first game since coming out in June 2021, then playing with the Las Vegas Raiders, the defensive end caused a fumble that set up their team’s game-winning touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens. It was a performance that’s not just a win for the community, but a message to everyone else.
However, it’s not a message to brag. Instead, it’s just to say that he is indeed an NFL player.
“I don't think that straight players are thinking, 'Oh, I'm straight and I'm playing this game,'" Nassib told Men’s Health in a 2022 interview when he recalled the game.
Because that’s how equality really looks like. To be treated just like everyone else.
Happy Pride Month.