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Martina Navratilova Calls Jason Collins' Coming Out a 'Game Changer'

Martina Navratilova Calls Jason Collins' Coming Out a 'Game Changer'

Martina Navratilova Calls Jason Collins' Coming Out a 'Game Changer'

If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that public opinion on marriage equality and gay rights is shifting dramatically, a subject Martina Navratilova addressed in an op-ed for Sports Illustrated since Washington Wizard Jason Collins became the first openly gay male athlete in major league sports earlier this week.

If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that public opinion on marriage equality and gay rights is shifting dramatically, a subject Martina Navratilova addressed in an op-ed for Sports Illustrated since Washington Wizard Jason Collins became the first openly gay male athlete in major league sports earlier this week.

That dramatic shift of public opinion has happened virtually across the board in recent years. We saw it with the repeal of DADT, and with President Obama’s declaration last year that he is in support of gay marriage.  We’ve seen it in pop culture with celebrities being more and more vocal about their sexuality, as actors and actresses have come out in unprecedented numbers as LGBT.  We’ve watched as Gene Robinson became the first openly gay Episcopal bishop.  

We’ve seen it in women’s sports, most notably as former Baylor  hoops player Brittney Griner came out as a lesbian, not long after being taken number one in the WNBA draft. But the area that seemed to be glaringly sparse in terms of an LGBT presence was in the case of active American male professional athletes, where no openly gay player had ever felt comfortable coming out of the closet – until now.

Collins became the first active player in one of the four major American professional team sports to come out as gay just this Monday. Navratilova, who fellow out lesbian tennis player Billy Jean King once described as, “the greatest singles, doubles and mixed doubles player who's ever lived,” waxed poetic in an op-ed on how remarkable Collins’ coming out is, considering the state of affairs just a few decades ago.  

“We've come a long way,” wrote the multiple Grand Slam winner.  “In the 1980s I knew an NHL coach who was convinced there were no gay hockey players. Ever. Certainly not on his teams. Why? ‘This is a macho sport,’ he said. Remember Reggie White? In the '90s, the Packers star appeared in a newspaper advertising campaign to persuade gays and lesbians that they could ‘cease’ their homosexuality. The NFL responded with ... a lot of silence.”

Collins’ self-outing was a long process, but one that was catalyzed by a handful of male professional athletes voicing their support for LGBT rights.  Players like the NHL’s Sean Avery and the NFL’s Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo have been incredibly vocal as straight allies.   

Navratilova described in her op-ed how she was approached by NFL receiver Donté Stallworth at a gas station, who told her that he publicly supports LGBT rights.  NBA superstars Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash filmed anti-homophobia public service ads, a particularly notable transformation for Bryant, who in 2011 was fined $100,000 by the NBA when he was caught on tape using an anti-gay slur.  Still, Navratilova wrote that she believes that Collins is the “proverbial ‘game changer.’”  “One of the last bastions of homophobia has been challenged,” Navratilova opined. “How many LGBT kids, once closeted, are now more likely to pursue a team sport and won't be scared away by a straight culture?”

As states continue to legalize gay marriage, and gay people and straight allies alike are loudly supporting what they seem to be a basic civil right, Navratilova wrote that she sees Collins’ brave act as a way to show young sports fans that it really does get better.

“Collins has led the way to freedom," she wrote. “Because that closet is completely and utterly suffocating. It's only when you come out that you can breathe properly. It's only when you come out that you can be exactly who you are.”

Read Navratilova’s full SI piece here. 

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Annie Hollenbeck