Tennis champion and LGBT advocate Martina Navratilova commented on the prevailing closet for male tennis players in an interview with Sports Broadcaster Clare Balding, where she said that male tennis players are still not out.
“It is more difficult in team sports as you may not get to play. But that does not explain why there are no gay male tennis players at all,” said the 56-year-old ex-Wimbledon champion during the pre-pride weekend of London’s Pride. “We know they are there, but they are so far in the closet I don’t know who they are.”
Considered one of the first openly gay athletes in history, Navratilova came out in 1981 and has championed for LGBT rights for 3 decades.
She noted seeing more female players openly out and knew several gay male tennis players, but explained they felt too oppressed to come out publicly.
“In the entertainment guys have an easier time coming out than women. In the sports world we have had a lot more women coming out than men,” Navratilova added. “In the US we only have Jason Collins who has come out, the basketball star. So, I don’t know.”
Since coming out, Navratilova refused endorsements and sponsorships that equaled to over a million dollars because of her integrity.
“When I came out, in 1981, I didn’t have much public support and I know I lost endorsements. But I never had to worry about losing my job,” said Navratilova in a statement after Jason Collins came out in April. “In tennis, there are no bosses, no general managers and no coaches who can keep players from competing. So I was safe in that regard. For team sports athletes, this is not the case. A homophobic coach at any level — high school, college or pros—could keep a player from playing.”
The Sports Hall of Fame will honor Navratilova and other pioneering LGBT athletes and straight allies in their first ceremony for “standing up to stereotypes” and embracing the LGBT community in sports.
“The nominating committee will look for any individual or organization that has put forth the effort to preserve the history of gays and lesbians in the sporting world,” Executive Director Bill Gubrud told 429Magazine. “Likewise, the nominee has worked to instill and promote a safe and tolerant environment so that gay and lesbian youth across the nation feel welcomed to participate in any and all athletic related activities.”