NFL Hopeful Michael Sam Comes Out: 11 Other Openly Gay Athletes

On Monday, Michael Sam took a brave, new step in the world of football: he came out, publicly and proudly, before being drafted into the NFL. If the NFL goes for him, he'll be the first athlete ever to be drafted for a major national league team while openly gay.

Currently, there are no out gay players in the NFL, the NHL, the NBA, or NBL. Several players have, however, come out after leaving the game. Here are some of the biggest pro athletes who have come out of the closet.

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1975: David Kopay

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Not familiar with NFL running back David Kopay? Not surprising. He’s a little before our time; playing between 1964-72.

But he deserves a hell of a lot of recognition: he was the first professional team-sport athlete to publicly come out, ever. Three years after he retired, in 1975, he announced he was gay in The Washington Star, opening the door for all gay athletes after him.

1992: Roy Simmons Comes Out (2007: Takes It Back)

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In 1992, Roy Simmons, a former offensive guard for the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins from 1979-83, told the world he was gay on the air during The Phil Donahue Show.

But his coming out was a tough process. He went through a dark period of drugs and promiscuity, learning that he was HIV positive in 1997, and publicly renounced his “homosexual lifestyle” in favor of Christianity in 2007.

1999: Billy Bean

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Five years after he retired, in 1999 Billy Bean — a former baseball player for the San Diego Padres — publicly came out of the closet. But in a recent interview, when asked whether he would’ve continued playing, had LGBT rights been then as they are today, his answer was: “A thousand percent yes.” “There was no avenue for me. Nobody was even on the Internet yet. It’s mind-boggling to see the resources that are available to LGBT youth today, and it’s great to see how much more confident they are because of it. I’m glad my journey allowed me to be a part of those who have passed the baton that has allowed us to get to this day. But if I even knew one percent of what I know about myself now, I would still be playing baseball.”

2002: Esera Tuaolo

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Esera Tuaolo became the third retired NFL player to publicly come out of the closet in 2002, during an interview on HBO’s Real Sports. After nine seasons in the NFL, the six-foot-three, 300 pound-defensive lineman shattered stereotypes by telling the world he was gay.

2005: Sheryl Swoopes

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In 2005, Swoopes — a three-time Olympic gold medalist and reigning WNBA MVP — announced she was a lesbian in an exclusive interview with ESPN.

“My reason for coming out isn’t to be some sort of hero,” Swoopes said in the article. “I’m just at a point in my life where I’m tired of having to pretend to be somebody I’m not. I’m tired of having to hide my feelings about the person I care about. About the person I love …Male athletes of my caliber probably feel like they have a lot more to lose than gain [by coming out]. I don’t agree with that. To me, the most important thing is happiness.”

2007: John Amaechi

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Perhaps encouraged by the series of other athletes to open up about their sexual orientations, in 2007, former NBA player John Amaechi became the first professional basketball player to also publicly announce himself as gay in his book Man in the Middle.

Years later, he called out a five-time NBA champion on his homophobic slurs, saying: “We have to take it as unacceptable as a white person screaming the N-word at a black person. I can tell you that I’ve been called a f–got fairly routinely, and yet people seem to hold off on calling me the N-word. We’ve got to mirror that progress.”

2011: Will Sheridan

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Like Michael Sam, former Villanova basketball player Will Sheridan told his teammates he was gay, but only publicly came out years later, in 2011. In a 2013 interview with NBC, he says:

“A lot of my friends on campus were well aware. And then I came out to my teammates as we grew in a relationship like a team and I felt more comfortable. Coming out publicly — I was already out to a bunch of people. To come and get on air and say I’m a homosexual. I’m gay. I like men. I think that was groundbreaking.”

2012: Megan Rapinoe

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An American professional soccer midfielder and casual Olympic gold medalist (who’s playing in the National Women’s Soccer League right now), Rapinoe came out in July 2012, during an interview with Out magazine.

“I feel like sports in general are still homophobic, in the sense that not a lot of people are out,” she said in the interview. “I feel everyone is really craving [for] people to come out. People want — they need — to see that there are people like me playing soccer for the good ol’ U.S. of A.”

2012: Wade Davis

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In 2012, another NFL player, Wade Davis, also came out after retiring. “If allies come out and say, ‘You know what, I’m against homophobia. I welcome a gay teammate,’ then it will be easier for someone who is gay to come out,” he said in a 2013 interview.

2013: Kwame Harris

In March 2013, Kwame Harris — who played n the NFL from 2003 until 2008 — announced that he was gay on CNN — but only after he’d been publicly outed because of a domestic dispute with his ex-boyfriend. He was convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence after getting into a physical fight with his partner over table manners. Like you do.

2013: Jason Collins

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Although all the attention is on Michael Sam today, Jason Collins really paved the way for him back in May of last year, when, after a twelve-year NBA career, Collins became the first EVER active male athlete from one of the four major North American professional team sports to publicly come out. In the article written by himself in Sports Illustrated, Collins opened: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.” A couple of months after the article was published, though, he became a free agent and is still currently unsigned. At least he got invited to the President’s State of the Union.