Sexual orientation has been a big issue in team sports. In recent years, many athletes have started to come out of the closet. We profile some of these pioneers.
Justin Fashanu's professional soccer career lasted nearly 20 years (1978-1997) as he played everywhere from England to Australia to Canada. In 1990, the English soccer star announced he was gay. On top of being England's first black soccer player to snag a million pound ($2 million) contract, Fashanu was also one of the only gay athletes to come out of the closet while still playing professional sports. Fashanu was constantly teased by teammates, fans and even coaches after he came out. His life ended tragically as he committed suicide in May 1998.
Former NBA player, John Amaechi, shocked the sports world when he announced he was gay in February 2007. The English-born Amaechi played for five seasons in the NBA before retiring in 2003. In his autobiography, Amaechi revealed that teammates were suspicious of his sexual orientation and was even confronted by a teammate about it once. After he came out, the reaction was mixed. To this date, Amaechi is the only NBA player to ever admit he is gay.
Sheryl Swoopes was the first player ever to be signed by the WNBA. She is one of the best female basketball players of all times and has been referred to as the "female Michael Jordan". In October 2005, Swoopes announced she was gay. Swooped is one of the highest profile athletes to ever come out. The announcement was also shocking since Swoopes was once married and has a young son. After playing 11 years with the Houston Comets, Swoopes joined the Seattle Storm in 2008.
From 1987 to 1995, Billy Bean played in the MLB for three different teams: The Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Diego Padres and the Detroit Tigers. Bean tied a major league record by hitting four hits in his first MLB game. Four years after he retired, Bean announced he was Gay and wrote a tell-all autobiography. To date, Bean is only the second baseball player to come out of the closet. Bean is currently producing a TV show that is about a baseball player who tries to cover up he is gay.
When it comes to professional sports, no sport has the tough guy image more than the NFL. That is why it was so tough for former NFL player Esera Tuaolo to admit to anybody that he was gay. Tuaolo was a defensive lineman that played eight years in the NFL (1991-1999) and played for five different teams including the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. Since coming out in 2002, Tuaolo has been an advocate about gay rights especially in sports and the military.