This is the eighth in a series of articles showcasing the wide variety
of notable gays and lesbians that have made contributions throughout
history. Why this ongoing series? Because, as C. Ann Shepherd puts it,
"I feel it's important for the gay community (particularly gay and
lesbian youth) and the general population to realize that gay and
lesbian people have made (and continue to make) invaluable
contributions to society. Having a list of notable gay and lesbian
people also helps to put a face on the gay and lesbian civil rights
issues being debated across the country."
This time, we'll take a look at some homosexual athletes from team
sports (next time, we'll start on individual sports). There are
relatively few team players who come out while they are still active;
perhaps partly because of the "macho" image of male team sports, but
also because of (sometimes justified) fears of retaliation, physical
and otherwise, by other team members.
Dave Slattery is a gay professional football coach and one-time general
manager of the Washington Redskins.
David Kopay (1942-) is a gay retired NFL running back. During his ten-
year career, he played for the San Francisco Forty-Niners, the Detroit
Lions, the Washington Redskins, the New Orleans Saints, and the Green
Bay Packers. In 1975, at the end of his career, he became the first
professional athlete in any sport to come out; the story broke in the
Washington Star. With Perry Young, he wrote his autobiography, The
David Kopay Story: An Extraordinary Self-Revelation. Kopay's first
lover was Jerry Smith (see below). Kopay says that four other members
of the 1969 and 1970 Redskins were gay or bisexual. Kopay now lives in
West Hollywood and sells linoleum.
Jerry Smith (1943?-1986) was a gay NFL all-pro tight end with the
Washington Redskins from 1965-1977. He died of complications from AIDS,
denying his homosexuality right up until the end.
Mariah Burton Nelson (?-) is a lesbian former baskeball player. She
played for Stanford University (team captain for three years) and then
professionally in both the United States and France. She is the author
of several books and videos on gender and sports, and currently
competes in masters swimming events (she is in the top five nationally
for her age group).
Dave Pallone (1952-) is a gay former major league baseball umpire. He
was fired in 1988 for alleged involvement in a sex ring with teenage
boys; Pallone brought a suit against major league baseball and was
cleared of all charges. He wrote an autobiography, Behind the Mask.
Betty Baxter (1952?-) is a lesbian Canadian volleyball player and
coach. She was a member of the national volleyball team for seven
years; during that period she was named the University of British
Columbia's Athlete of the Year (1974) and was on the Canadian
volleyball team for the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. In 1979, she became
the national coach, but was fired in 1982 "amid innuendo about her
sexual orientation," despite having been voted Coach of the Year by the
Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Union. Baxter currently runs her own
business specializing in workplace quality issues, as well as being an
activist for women's and lesbian/gay issues.
Glenn Burke (1953-1995) was a gay African-American baseball player. His
four years in the major leagues were mediocre (a .237 batting average),
although he did make a mark on the game: during the Dodgers' 1977
season, the outfielder invented the "high-five." He started his career
with the Dodgers, but was traded to Oakland after he turned down the
Dodgers' offer of a free honeymoon if he would just get married.
Burke's homosexuality was known within baseball, but not generally
until he came out in 1982, two years after retiring. Oakland's manager,
Billy Martin, wanted no part of him, either; with no other team willing
to sign Burke, he was essentially blackballed for being gay. After
leaving baseball, Burke became a heavy cocaine user, and spent 17
months in San Quentin on several charges. At age 42, he died of AIDS-
related complications. His autobiography, Out at Home, with Erik
Sherman, was published in 1995. In a 1993 New York Daily News article,
Burke was quoted as saying that he knew at least ten active or recently
retired major-league players who are gay or bisexual. "There is no
sport that accepts gays less than baseball," Burke wrote. He claimed
that of the four major team sports (baseball, basketball, football, and
hockey), the NFL had the most gay players (some insiders in the gay
community estimate that at least 50 NFL players are homosexual or
bisexual)--and the most-represented sport in this column is football.
Roy Simmons (1957?-) is a gay former offensive lineman for Georgia Tech
(1975-1978) and the New York Giants (1979-1983).
Ed Gallagher (?-) is a gay former football player. He was an offensive
lineman at the University of Pittsburgh in the late '70s. Under
suspicion of being gay, he was cut from the New York Giants training
camp after just two weeks. He founded Alive to Thrive after a failed
suicide attempt because of being gay.
Chad Kinch (1959?-1994) was a gay basketball player. He played college
basketball for North Carolina-Charlotte, including an NCAA Final Four
appearance in 1977. Kinch was a #1 draft pick of the Cleveland
Cavaliers. At age 35 he died of AIDS.
Justin Fashanu (1961-) is a gay British soccer player. He played in the
England Youth and Under 21 team and made his professional debut at
Norwich City in 1979. He became Britain's first 1,000,000 black soccer
player when he transferred to Nottingham Forest in 1981. In the late
1980s, he came out as gay in The News of the World (a British tabloid
paper); he supposedly claimed to have had political boyfriends in the
House of Commons. He left the sport in 1994.
Peter Karlsson (1966?-1995) was a gay elite Swedish ice hockey player.
He was stabbed to death on his way home from a local disco by a 19-
year-old skinhead who said that Karlsson had tried to date him; over
60 knife wounds were found. Due to Karlsson's popularity, his death
received extensive media coverage in Sweden; his ice hockey team
arranged a protest march, which included over 2000 participants, in
honor of their murdered teammate. The skinhead received an eight-year
sentence for manslaughter; Swedish gay groups protested that the
verdict should have been murder, not manslaughter. Brian Pronger, a
lecturer at the University of Toronto and the author of a book about
homosexuality and sports, says five high-profile NHL players are gay.
Ian Roberts (1966-) is a gay Australian professional rugby player at
the international level. He came out in 1995, having been previously
openly gay amongst friends, family, and teammates. In a 1996 interview,
he said "as an out-gay guy in a sport perceived as very heterosexual, I
have attracted quite a lot of animosity. The saving grace has always
been with the game itself. Most of the players and administrators, with
a few exceptions, have been accepting. I take offence at the old locker
room argument which assumes a man cannot, in any circumstances, control
his urges. Any self-respecting human being can respect the rights and
ways of another human being. The idea, then, that gays can convert, or
want, heterosexual guys, is ludicrous. We want to play the game, not
Our Gay and Lesbian Heritage by Bruce Britton - Part 7
Our Gay and Lesbian Heritage by Bruce Britton - Part 9