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I’m homosexual.

The ones two phrases become the rallying cry towards locker room-centric homophobia, beginning with a surge in skilled athletes and sports activities figures popping out with their sexual orientation in 2013.

The primary vital participant was once NBA veteran Jason Collins, who got here out in April of 2013. A couple of months later, faculty line of defense Michael Sam got here out to his Missouri teammates, and become the primary overtly homosexual professional soccer participant on a roster when the St. Louis Rams drafted him in 2014. In 2016, WNBA famous person Brittney Griner publicly got here out as lesbian in a profile with USA TODAY Sports activities.  

The choice of athletes popping out higher right through the second one time period of President Barack Obama, and as same-sex marriage was once legalized through the Best Court docket in June of 2015. Milwaukee Brewers minor leaguer David Denson got here out as homosexual that August. In October, Bryant College males’s basketball assistant Chris Burns become the primary Department I males’s trainer in faculty basketball to return out publicly in a profile with USA TODAY Sports activities, drawing the reward of Duke trainer Mike Krzyzewski.

Other people wave a rainbow flag as they rejoice the victory of Joe Biden within the 2020 presidential election in West Hollywood, California, on November 7, 2020. Biden received the worrying US election and ended the traditionally turbulent and divisive generation of Donald Trump. (Photograph: DAVID MCNEW, AFP by way of Getty Photographs)

“I feel we did see a domino impact of athletes popping out in high-profile sports activities,” mentioned San Diego Unswerving football participant Collin Martin, recently the one publicly out male athlete in any of the most important American sports activities. “It is transparent that numerous development came about below Barack Obama’s management. Unfortunately, sports activities (have) been slower to turn the similar form of LGBTQ illustration as different leisure fields, however that political development nonetheless prolonged to (sports activities).”

Even though there is not any identified professional information, a lot of that development, LGBTQ activists imagine, was once slowed when President Donald Trump entered the White Space in 2017.

Trump’s war of words with professional athletes has been well documented. LGBTQ advocates also argue that Trump’s policies went beyond disputes and were discriminatory to their community, particularly to the transgender community, where Trump oversaw the rollback of rights targeting them.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) created the Trump Accountability Act, a resource which catalogues the anti-LGBTQ statements and actions of the Trump administration.

San Diego Loyal players walked off the field and forfeited a Sept. 30 match against Phoenix Rising after a Rising player called San Diego’s Collin Martin a homophobic slur. (Photo: Arizona Republic)

“I wasn’t going to let Trump’s Presidency or a tougher time politically affect my decision to come out,” said Martin, who came out in 2018 when he played for the MLS’ Minnesota United. “More than ever, we need athletes to come out in the public spotlight. Female athletes are way ahead of male athletes still because homophobic language isn’t as pervasive (for girls) as it is for boys in youth sports.”

There’s been a lengthy examination of Trump and race in sports, beginning with Colin Kaepernick and the NFL protests in 2016, and the vociferous objections to Trump’s racial policies and views from NBA stars such as LeBron James and Gregg Popovich.

What’s rarely been publicly examined is Trump’s impact on the LGBTQ community as it relates to sports, and how the relationship will change as the presidency shifts from Trump to Biden. 

Did Trump’s presidency play a part in slowing the overall progress in the sports realm – where there’s been a shortage of openly gay high-profile athletes in men’s sports – as compared to Obama’s second term? And will Biden’s presumed lack of resistance to LGBTQ issues act as a sail instead of a wall as Trump did?

Assessing Trump’s impact on the LGBTQ community is in some ways obvious, and in others it isn’t. After all, the coming-out stories haven’t exactly stopped over the last four years. Just in October of 2019, NFL free agent Ryan Russell came out as bisexual.

But as Joe Biden’s presidency is set to begin on Inauguration Day on Wednesday, it may not take long to see the difference in how the Biden and Trump administrations treat the LGBTQ community.

“It’s hard to say Donald Trump hasn’t played a significant role in impeding progress for LGBTQ people as a whole,” said Greenburgh-North Castle (New York) High School athletic director Anthony Nicodemo, a gay high school basketball coach who teaches politics. “Then in the sports world, where homophobia and toxic masculinity already exist, we’re talking about a lot of fear factors that can make being your true self challenging.”

Biden announced that in his first 100 days in office he’s pledging to enact the Equality Act – federal legislation that would add LGBTQ protections to existing federal civil rights law. 

“The rainbow flag was waving for the Obama administration,” Nicodemo said. “The natural climate was rolled back culturally with Trump simply remaining silent (on LGBTQ) issues. We saw a seismic shift after the (George W.) Bush administration because Obama was a ground-breaker as an African-American. Joe Biden is not a groundbreaker, even with Kamala Harris as a vice president. But having a president (in Biden) who I believe has great empathy for all people will go a long way.” 

Waiting on a big name

Despite all the inclusive progress in the sports world over the past decade, there has yet to be a prominent All-Star or Pro Bowl name in a top-five men’s sport to come out. 

“Coming out of the closet is about your own personal timeline so coming out stories will happen in waves,” said former NFL player Ryan O’Callaghan, who came out after retiring in June of 2017 near the start of Trump’s presidency, and now says he counsels several closeted professional athletes. “But fear plays a large factor as a societal (force) and nothing about Trump’s presidency felt safe to anyone who is closeted. Coming out as gay is going to continue to be a big deal or news story for athletes until it’s a regular occurrence. We’re not there yet.”

Billy Bean, the MLB’s Vice President and Special Assistant to the Commissioner, said the political climate could’ve played a slight factor in an athlete’s personal decision to stay closeted. 

“Over the last several years, people have been rewarded for divisive activity, especially on social media, and the (political) culture galvanized people who maybe were afraid to be homophobic or racist,” Bean said. “Culture is not easy to change. Homophobia and racism and most men feminizing each other growing up have been built over 100 years so it takes a while to take that wall down.”

LGBTQ expert Cyd Zeigler, the co-founder of Outsports – an online magazine that showcases athletes and their coming-out stories – said other measuring sticks are more important than Trump’s influence. He notes that the number of athletes who have come out skyrocketed since 2013 when 77 athletes (including high school and different college divisions) came out publicly.

Outsports tracked 184 coming-out stories in 2017. Zeigler said that female athletes’ coming out stories, in particular, have significantly increased.

“Who is in the White House is like the 12th most important influence for not coming out,” Zeigler said. “Donald Trump is not homophobic so I don’t think we’re going to see an incredible wave of people coming out because of the Biden administration. If anything, (Biden’s) presidency could just accelerate the momentum already in place. 

“The No. 1 (detriment) in athletes coming out is pro athletes and their agents who will say coming out is too risky.” 

To some, Sam’s coming out experience is a cautionary tale. Sam, citing mental health reasons, abruptly retired in 2015. Sam said in a February 2019 speech that he regretted coming out when he did and added “the NFL gave me a raw deal.”

Sam never played a game with the Rams after being drafted in the seventh round as the reigning SEC defensive player of the year. He later became a practice-squad player with the Dallas Cowboys and had a brief stint with the CFL’s Montréal Alouettes. Sam’s agents at the time encouraged him to go on “Dancing with the Stars” shortly before his retirement.

“You can’t ignore what happened there,” O’Callaghan said. “Michael had a media circus focusing on his sexuality and I think the PR team he had in place didn’t serve him well. But it’s unfair to suggest he didn’t make the team because of his sexual orientation. 

“One thing I do tell guys, if they come out, is that your play on the field has to speak louder than everyone in the media or public talking about your sexuality. I think a great political comparison is Pete Buttigieg. At first, he was known as the ‘gay politician.’ But then all the sudden he stood out because he was bright, elegant and a war veteran. Then the gay title was taken out and he was Mayor Pete. Being gay was a part of who he was. It has to be the same kind of thing for an athlete.”

‘Braver … in some ways’

LGBTQ athletes and advocates say Trump’s presidency amplified the need for bravery.

Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon publicly sparred with Vice President Mike Pence in 2017 ahead of the Pyeongchang Games, condemning Pence’s longstanding anti-gay beliefs.

Publicly out women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe famously fought with Trump over social media during the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Rapinoe was quoted as saying to Trump, “your message is excluding people that look like me. …you’re harking back to an era that was not great for everyone.”

“The President of the United States sets the tone for the country and I think Trump’s discrimination made it less safe but it made us braver as a country in some ways,” Nicodemo said. “What happened in the last four years for the country was a social justice movement that actually got us somewhere now as a country we’ve never been before – ready for serious change. We don’t have an out athlete in the NBA, the NFL, the MLB or the NHL. It’s hard to imagine that will stay the same with our country being more welcoming at the top.”

Zeigler said there’s an inevitability for more publicly out male athletes based on the generational transformation. In 2019, there were eight publicly out college football players and those eight were more in one year than anyone else who came before them combined. 

“These closeted athletes spend their whole professional lives living in fear that they’ll be outed, but if there’s a safe locker room environment that says, ‘this is OK,’ then that changes,” Zeigler said. “Imagine living your life fearing a tiger ready to pounce on you and kill you. That’s what it feels like to be closeted and not want your teammates or the public to find out. But when your teammates accept you, then you believe the world can, too.” 

That inevitability for change is highlighted in the political arena where 334 openly LGBTQ candidates won office in the 2020 elections – the highest ever mark in any election year.

Bean, who came out as gay at the end of his MLB playing days in 1999, said a new era has been ushered in to offset fear walls of the past thanks to more inclusiveness in younger generations and advocacy work atop sports leagues.

“There’s no question the data suggests we’re seeing a higher number of scholastic and college-level students to come out because they’re inundated with amazing friends. Peer acceptance is 90% of the decision,” Bean said. “We’ve been building the cornerstone for acceptance at the highest level, and there’s been a cultural shift in locker rooms. When I was a player, I was listening to what the stars were saying and I felt like their language told me to keep my secret. Now, the stars are being inclusive. That alone makes us ready to have more athletes come out.

“I would rather a player in environment where a (closeted) athlete feels loved and accepted for a while before make decision to publicly come out. I think we’re there.” 

Follow national sports enterprise reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.