At this year's 2012 Summer Olympics, LGBT athletes certainly brought their 'A' game, but their overall representation at the London Games—just two dozen LGBT athletes participated—was pretty low. But in the last four months (June through late September), a wave of LGBT-related sports stories have hit the media, and just in time for the start of the U.S. football, hockey and basketball season. Are we in for a new pro-LGBT sports era, or is this unusually high number a fluke?
Maryland Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo
Considering these top 10 stories from the summer and early fall, I'm willing to bet we're in for a whole new ball game.
10) Another ex-NFL Player Comes Out
In early June, former Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins player Wade Davis did the unthinkable by coming out shortly after his NFL run. Now that football is behind him, Davis works at the Hetrick-Martin Institute as a champion of LGBT advocacy.
9) That's Amar'e
Shortly after Wade Davis came out of the closet, New York Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire made national news when he called an unhappy fan a “fag” on Twitter. Within a few days, the NBA fined Stoudemire $50,000 for the incident (that's over 16,000 per anti-gay slur letter), ushering a new era of Twitter foul penalties.
8) Megan Rapinoe: Bad Timing, But Great Summer
In early July, U.S. Soccer Team midfielder Megan Rapinoe came out as a lesbian, but she may have picked the wrong week (Frank Ocean and Anderson Cooper quickly followed). But that didn't stop Megan from having a great Olympics; just a few weeks later, the U.S. Soccer Team took home the gold. Rapinoe, whose revelation coincided with her 27th birthday, also revealed that she was dating Australian soccer player Sarah Walsh.
7) A 'Patriot Act' That Doesn't Suck
Also in July, New England Patriots' tight end Rob Gronkowski made headlines for his pro-LGBT comments about gay teammates. In an interview with OutSports, Gronkowski, a known “foot in mouth” athlete, admitted that he's a team player first, even if the other player is gay: “If that’s how they are, that’s how they are...I mean, we’re teammates so, as long as he’s being a good teammate and being respectful and everything, that’s cool.”
6) The Kiss Seen Round the World
At London's Opening Ceremonies in late July, international viewers saw more than just an airborne Mary Poppins and Harry Potter. The televised program also featured a lesbian kiss from the 1980s British soap opera "Brookside,” which was part of a “Famous British Kisses” video compilation. And because the Olympics were broadcast in real time, the short segment became the first-ever same-sex television kiss in many nations across the world.
5) Lesbian Swimmer (With Awesome Name) Nearly Breaks Record
In August, Diana Nyad, a 62-year-old motivational speaker and competitive swimmer, attempted to swim from Cuba to Key West—and nearly made it. The combination of a freak storm, not to mention shark and jellyfish attacks, stopped her short of her goal (her 4th try). But she still got to celebrate her 63rd birthday in Key West, and lived to tell the tale.
4) The Brendan Ayanbadejo Story
In perhaps the most mainstream LGBT sports-related story of the year (so far), Maryland Ravens linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo, a known gay rights supporter, got the attention of Maryland delegate and pastor Emmett C. Burns Jr., who contacted Raven's owner Steve Bisciotti to demand that Ayanbadejo cease his public support for gay marriage. The public outcry in defense of Ayanbadejo was unprecedented in NFL history, with support coming from both players and fans, alike. Minnesota Vikings' kicker Chris Kluwe wrote a scathing letter to Burns, calling him “mind-boggingly stupid,” and shortly after, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stated that Ayanbadejo had a right to free speech: “I think in this day and age, people are going to speak up about what they think is important. They speak as individuals and that’s an important part of democracy.” As for Brendan Ayanbadejo, he told the press that he couldn't be more happy about Burns response, which brought more attention to the issue of gay marriage.
3) Touchdown for Trans Rights
One of the most touching LGBT sports stories of the season came from trans football player Seth Knop, a senior at Michigan's Grosse Pointe South High School. Knop, who was born female, avoided trying out for the football team throughout high school, but after friends encouraged him, he decided to give it a chance. Knop is now the running back on the school's Varsity football team, a first for the program.
2) There's No Homophobic Eye Black in Baseball
After Blue Jays' shortstop Yunel Escobar wrote “you're all faggots” in Spanish on his eye black last weekend, the team's management, the MBA, and the MBA player's league sent a message that homophobia will not be tolerated in Major League Baseball. The former MVP was suspended for the next three games for the homophobic stunt, which meant that he would be on the bench for this weekend's series against the Yankees. I'm willing to bet Yunel, a former MVP, would have preferred a $50k fine.
1)I Know There's a Gay Pirate Joke in Here Somewhere...
Finally, former Pittsburgh Pirates CEO Kevin McClatchy came out of the closet this weekend, shocking many in the world of Major League Baseball. McClathy, who served for over a decade from 1996 to 2007, said that the decision was not an easy one: "I've spent 30 years -- or whatever the number is specifically -- not talking about my personal life, lying about my personal life... I probably didn't sleep as well as I could have last night."
Is the sports world creating a "new normal" for LGBT athletes? There's a long way to go before this happens, but locker room homophobia may soon be a thing of the past.