By David Thorpe
Francisco may have been deeply closeted as a pro, but there is plenty of titillating gossip about male players who have had same-sex hotel room trysts or lovers traveling as masseurs. As any mildly obsessive gay male fan knows, tantalizing rumors surround a hunky American player once ranked inside the top 20. 'He was very attractive, muscular, the epitome of a gay pinup. Everyone kind of knew he was gay from the way he talked -- he wasn't hiding it. I remember him in line for lunch with his boyfriend,' one source says.
Another former number 1 American player was thought to play both sides of the net. Very rarely, the media takes up these kinds of rumors. Last year the French magazine Le Point asked French businessman Arnaud Lagard're to comment on a rumor that he was having an affair with a current top 10 player, the boyish Richard Gasquet. Lagard're vigorously denied it, as did Gasquet in a press conference after a match at a tournament in Monte Carlo. Nonetheless, rumors about Gasquet persist.
Even if gay tennis fans are forced to live on scraps of gossip, there is one place where gay males and tennis might be a comfortable reality: college. The United States has changed a great deal in the decade or so since Francisco endured homophobic taunts on university courts. At a handful of schools, tennis players and coaches have played through the closet door.
In 2005, Matthew Coin came out to his tennis teammates during his senior year at the University of California, Santa Barbara. 'Positive things came out of it and no negative ones,' says Coin. 'From the moment I came out, they gave me incredible support.' Kyle Wagner played tennis for California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, in 2002 and 2003 and came out to his teammates shortly after he graduated. 'They loved it -- they had no problems with it at all,' Wagner says. 'I was worked up over it being this big thing, and they said, 'We kind of figured.' '
In 2002, Sean Burns, a coach at Santa Clara University, came out to his players. Again, the experience was overwhelmingly supportive. 'We were running in the gym,' says Burns, 'and there was a junior who came in last. He was mad at himself, so he said 'fuckin' faggot' to himself. About four players said 'Shut your fuckin' mouth.' '
Says Courier, 'I'm speculating here, but times have changed. Today's youth seem to have shifted toward being more accepting.'
Which is one reason that eventually a professional male tennis player will likely come out. Courier says it's 'a question of when, not if.' Navratilova says it will happen 'before 2010.'
Collegiate openness is already affecting professional tennis. After he quit the pro tour, Francisco began coming out to friends. Through gay tennis networks, he met Coin. 'He was very supportive. We talked a lot,' Francisco says.
Today he is out and '100% happier.' He doesn't have a boyfriend but has no trouble attracting male admirers to practices and the occasional small pro tournament he plays. He may not be Billie Jean King yet, but in his own way he's helping destroy the wall between gay men and professional sports -- and sports in general. 'I want the association of 'gay' with 'sissy' gone,' he says. 'I would love to show that gay people can be great athletes.'