From the Archives: How Coming Out in Professional Sports Has Changed Over the Last 30 Years

ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives has been busy this week clearing a space for Jason Collins in our LGBT Archival Sports collection alongside the likes of Billy Jean King, Martina Navratilova, and John Amechi, among others. As the first openly gay active NBA player, his 'coming out' has already proven to be a powerful statement for both professional athletes and the general public alike. It's even more remarkable to see how far the media has come in the way they choose to cover LGBT professional athletes, especially in the hyper-masculine world of male sports. The media's coverage of Jason Collins has been more nuanced than any coming out story in recent memory, with a variety of story angles that go beyond the sensational headlines of past years.

For the most part, the mainstream media coverage has been highly focused on his supporters: President Obama calling Jason to say he was "impressed by his courage" and the First Lady on Twitter saying "We've got your back!". Perhaps even more significant is the way the media has highlighted fellow African American male athletes who have voiced their support of Jason's including Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, and Charles Barkley.

Here at the Archives, we thought it would be fun to go through the collections and take a look at clippings from the media coverage done in the early 80's when Martina Navratilova and Billy Jean King first came out. Headlines read like this, "King's New Problem: Her Image Has Taken A Beating", "Billie Jean King Talks To Barbara Walters About Her Ordeal", "Martina and Nancy: Two Friends in Search of Understanding". The few lone wolves in today's media that have denounced Jason Collins' coming out have almost been vilified for their homophobic responses, which is a massive shift from the early 1980's when almost all of the media coverage around LGBT professional athletes was centered around scandal, salaciousness, and secrets.

Perhaps we have turned a corner in the way the media has decided to tell our stories. The jury is still out on this one, but we all look forward to the day when headlines like the ones below are only found in the Archives.

How Coming Out in Professional Sports Has Changed Over the Last 30 Years