Tuesday, September 08, 2015

What USA Today Got Wrong About Gays in Tennis

Overlooked this the first time around, but it's worth noting for those who clicked through to Nick McCarvel and Ava Wallace's piece in USA Today about gays in tennis: Billie Jean King was NOT a "trailblazer as an out lesbian" during her career. As I detailed in my memoir, the tennis pioneer was outed by ex-lover Marilyn Barnett in 1981, yet still remained married to hubby Larry King for years, even playing up in the media the idea of adopting a child together afterward to distract people from her true sexuality. (She described the same-sex affair as merely a "mistake.") 

Although she divorced in 1987 and began living more openly, it wasn't until 1998 -- a good FIFTEEN YEARS after her retirement from the circuit -- that she publicly came out in an article in The Advocate, which just goes to show how difficult coming out is in sports, even for someone as influential as BJK. Martina Navratilova was also outed 1981 -- by The Daily News -- but was mostly forthright (give or take a "bisexual" label or two), which cost her untold sums in endorsement deals. She was the "trailblazer" here, not Billie Jean. (This may sound like condemnation, but it's truly is not. It was a different time -- AND BJK was married to someone she cared about it, so it's not like I think she should have just been able to get sued and wake up one day and say, "It was all a lie -- bye, Larry.") Still, it wasn't until 18 years later that Amelie Mauresmo became the first player I know of to be forthright about her homosexuality -- on her own terms -- when she credited new love Sylvie Bourdon as being a key to her success at the 1999 Australian Open, where she reached the final at just 19. USA Today describes Mauresmo as having been "outed" at the tournament, but that's not how I recall it at all. Being asked and being honest is hardly outing. Since then, only a handful of gay players (Rennae Stubbs, Casey Dellacqua) have been open about their sexuality, yet bigger-name stars like Samantha Stosur continue to keep it to themselves. While it's highly unlikely that  Sergiy Stakhovsky is right that half the women on the tour are lesbians, it's equally unlikely that there are only two or three. The incredibly low number of out players reveals just how depressingly little progress has been made in the past three decades, despite enormous societal gains around much of the world.

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