12 of our favorite out athletes from the last 40 years

Patty Sheehan

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Patty Sheehan racked up 41 wins in her professional golf career, including 6 major tournament victories. She won both the LPGA Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year honors in her Hall of Fame career. She was one of Sports Illustrated Sportsmen of the Year in 1987. Sheehan came out in 1998 in an article for Golf World magazine in which she discussed raising her son with her partner Rebecca Gaston.

Chamique Holdsclaw

Photo courtesy of Chamique Holdsclaw

When speaking about the best college basketball players of all time it is impossible not to talk about Chamique Holdsclaw. She hoisted three NCAA championship trophies with the University of Tennessee, scored 3,025 points, was named Naismith Player of the Year (for the top collegiate basketball player) twice, and became the first female basketball player to win the Sullivan Award as the country’s top amateur athlete. She added a gold medal with the United States Olympic team in 2000. She was the first pick of 1999 WNBA draft and won the Rookie of the Year award. During her career she was selected for six WNBA All Star Games. Her professional career was hampered by her private battle with depression. Since retiring from basketball, Holdsclaw has become an advocate for mental health issues on college campuses. She has also been involved as a producer and cast member on the lesbian reality television show The Other Women of America.

Megan Rapinoe

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Hardcore soccer fans may have had their eyes on Megan Rapinoe before last year’s Women’s World Cup but for the rest of she burst onto the scene with her pinpoint cross to Abby Wambach which helped Team USA tie Brazil in the waning moments of overtime. Without her cross, Abby Wambach’s finish, and the penalty kick she buried the U.S. would not have made it to the final against Japan. This summer she looks to make the team for the London Olympic Games. While many speculated (and hoped) that Rapinoe was gay, she did not address her sexuality before this week when she stated “we’re out there” when speaking about gay athletes. Hopefully we’ll be able to watch her excel on the field and continue to be a voice for gay rights off of it.

Sheryl Swoopes

Photo from Tulsa Shock

Sheryl Swoopes is a basketball stud. She was the first woman to have a shoe named after her when Nike created the “Air Swoopes” for her. She won an NCAA championship at Texas Tech, has been the MVP of the WNBA and Defensive Play of the Year three times, won four WNBA Championships, and she won three Olympic Gold Medals as a member of Team USA and in 2011 was voted one of the top 15 players in WNBA history. In 2005, Swoopes became the second WNBA player to come out publicly when she announced that she was in a relationship with Alisa Scott and that the two were raising Swoopes’ son from a previous marriage together. Swoopes’ coming out was an important moment because not only was an athlete coming out in the middle of her career but also because Swoopes was one of the stars of the league. She was a household name even for those who did not follow women’s basketball closely. Swoopes and Scott broke up last year and Swoopes is now engaged to a man, but her coming out remains a watershed moment for the WNBA and women’s basketball.

Martina Navratilova

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For many Martina Navratilova needs no introduction. She is a tennis legend and a lesbian icon. Martina holds the record for most singles titles won by a man or a woman. She won 18 major tournament titles in singles and added another 41 major titles in doubles. She retired in 2006 after the winning U.S. Open mixed doubles title. For many, including Billie Jean King, she is the best tennis player to ever set foot on the court. She came out publicly in 1981, a move which surely cost her millions of dollars in endorsements, but which also inspired generations of athletes who looked up to her for both her amazing athletic skill and for her honesty.

Billie Jean King

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Like Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King is a legend in women’s sports. During her tennis career she won 39 major tournament titles, and she helped found both the Women’s Tennis Association and the Women’s Sports Foundation. For some, she is best remembered for beating Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes.” Her impact extends off the court to all facets of society. In 1990, Life magazine honored her impact by including King as the only female athlete on its list of the 100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century.

King was outed in 1981 during a palimony suit filed by a former partner. The lawsuit cost her millions in endorsement and her husband. However, since being shoved out of the closet she has become an outspoken voice for gay rights. Her work for equality was honored by President Obama in 2009 when she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. King has changed the landscape for women and particularly for female athletes in this country which is why she’s number one on my list.

Who would you put on your list of out athletes of the last 40 years?

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