Connect in the back of the net

What makes a great gay sportsman? It’s not just about their performance – it has to be more than that, the impact they have made, whether they have been a role-model, or made a difference in some way.

It may be a bit of a subjective topic, but it’s an interesting discussion point when you start to try and whittle it down to just seven.

With an increasing number of professional athletes being out and proud, coming up with a definitive list of who are the greatest gay sportsmen is definitely getting harder – it’s encouraging that there are lots of contenders to consider when compiling a list such as this, it’s a good problem to have.

To make it a little easier for ourselves we’ve tried to limit our choices to one outstanding athlete per sport.

Here are our nominations (in no particular order):

Basketball: Jason Collins

Collins played 13 seasons in the National Basketball Association in the US. When he announced that he was gay (in Sports Illustrated in 2013) he became one of the world’s highest profile professional athletes who was out and proud.

Honourable mention here to John Amaechi, a former professional basketball player who has become a strong advocate for equality and anti-discrimination.

 

Boxing: Orlando Cruz

Cruz is a professional boxer from Puerto Rico. In 2012 he became the first openly gay boxer. Unapologetically a proud gay man, Cruz has been fearless in just being himself.

 

Hurling: Donal Og Cusack

The sport of hurling may not be the most high profile sport in the world, but in conservative Ireland it was a big deal when in 2009 champion player Donal Og Cusack confirmed that he was gay.

 

Diving: Matthew Mitcham

Diving is a sport that has produced some incredibly talented athletes who are gay. Greg Louganis was an undoubted champion, but he didn’t publicly confirm his sexuality until after retiring. Tom Daley is still diving and is very much a prominent gay celebrity.

For us though, it has to be Matthew Mitcham that is recognised as the greatest. He won gold at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and has consistently been a leader and role model for gay men around the world.

 

Cricket: Steven Davies

When Davies confirmed in 2011 that he was gay he became the first openly gay international cricketer. He is perhaps a quiet achiever – his coming out as gay was no big deal, the world of cricket simply shrugged its shoulders and carried on playing because it was no big deal.

The fact that it was no big deal speaks volumes about all involved.

 

Gridiron Football: Michael Sam

Sam became the first publicly gay player to be drafted in the NFL – when his draft pick was announced his reaction (he kissed his boyfriend) was broadcast live on news networks.

 

Athletics: Tom Waddell

Tom Waddell competed in track and field events at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, but it was his role in establishing the Gay Games that has really defined his contribution to sport. The first Gay Games were held in San Francisco in 1982 and the event became a major catalyst for the establishment of gay sports clubs and increased participation in sport at all levels by gay men.

 

Other contenders that nearly made the list? Billy Bean (Baseball); Chris Morgan (Powerlifting); Blake Skjellerup (Speed Skating); Gareth Thomas (Rugby Union); Ian Roberts (Rugby League); Daniel Kowalski (Swimming); Ian Thorpe (Swimming); Robbie Rogers (Football); Justin Fashanu (Football); and Anton Hysen (Football).

We’re making slow progress, but professional sport is gradually becoming a safe space for gay men.

 

Written by Gareth Johnson

Follow Gareth on Twitter @GTV_Champion

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