For most of the world, 2020 is a year that can’t be forgotten soon enough. Pandemic-induced shutdowns impacted nearly every aspect of modern life, from businesses and politics to even changing the way we shop and communicate. Professional sports were particularly hard hit, with those seasons not postponed instead shortened and played in a bubble before empty seats. But these 16 athletes who decided to come out of closet so far this year have reminded us there are plenty of reasons to look back on 2020 with pride.
French ice dancing champion Guillaume Cizeron came out via Instagram, then wrote more extensively of his decision for Out. The Olympic silver medalist and four-time world champion described a childhood filled with bullies, confusion, and shame. He came out this year to help others who feel they are helpless and alone like he did.
"By telling my story, I wish to give some hope to the people who are still hiding in that bathroom, like I was not so long ago,” he wrote.
Canadian soccer star Quinn came out publicly as trans on Instagram this year, but had been out to those who knew them personally. “Coming out is HARD (and kinda bs)” they said on Instagram. Quinn is still waiting to see if they will be able to play with the Canadian National Team in the upcoming Olympics. Even though they helped the team qualify, the IOCC is still unsure how to handle their situation. Quinn express the desire to be “visible to queer folx” and a role model, saying “I know it saved my life years ago.”
Wrestler Curdin Orlik made history when he came out as gay. The star of the specialized sport of swing wrestling is Switzerland’s only openly gay professional athlete. “For far too long I have pushed out who I really am,” Orlick revealed. “I am not someone who kisses in front of people, but I want to lie down with a man and be able to touch him.”
Rugby is a brutal sport, akin to American football without pads, but the decision to come out of the closet was still frightening to English professional player Levi Davis. In the end, he texted teammates to reveal he was bisexual rather than coming out in person.
“Hi guys. I just want to tell you something that’s been eating away at me for four years now,” Davis recalled of the text. ‘I want to be open and honest with you boys, as friends and team-mates. I’m bisexual.”
Davis learned he had nothing to fear, as he received nothing but support from fans and teammates alike after coming out.
Chilean basketball player Daniel Arcos revealed he was gay in an emotional letter posted to Instagram and declared he was ready to live “proud and free.” He plays the small forward position for CD Castro in Chile’s top professional basketball league.
“I waited for this day for a long time” he wrote of his decision to come out publicly.
Snowboarders Jill Perkins, Chad Unger, and Kennedi Deck came out as queer in one week this past June. All three spoke of the unique experiences living in the closet while competing in the hypercompetitive and hard-living sport of snowboarding. Unger, who is deaf, especially felt like an outsider and especially feared rejection if his sexuality was discovered. All three hope to blaze a trail for others in the sport.
Sebastian Vega made history as the first out gay professional basketball player in Argentina’s history. The bearded baller feared his teammate’s responses to his revelation, only to learn they had his back with some even apologizing for past insensitive locker room talk.
“The most beautiful thing of all is that nothing has changed - on the contrary, it has changed for the better. We formed a stronger bond.”
One of Ireland’s most decorated athletes and star of track and field, Denis Finnegan described his personal process of coming out as “kind of slow.” He revealed he was gay to a few friends, then his family, and then others over a few years. Finnegan revealed he’s telling his story publicly now in order to give hope to younger people. He also revealed “it was never the sport side of things that would be the problem, the athletics for me were always a welcoming place.”
Gymnast Danell Leyva won a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics and two silver at the 2016 summer games, so he never cared much for the stereotypes associated with being queer. He said the reasons he came out were complicated, but partly because he wanted to prove the bigots wrong. He still hasn’t figured out if he’s bisexual or pansexual, but he’s not too worried about labeling himself for the time being.
“It was nice to have people be like, ‘You don't have to label it. You don't have to just be ‘a thing’. It's an ever-changing fluid thing, so you don't have to worry about that.’”
Former Australian rugby star Dan Palmer came out publicly last month in a moving column published in the Sydney Morning Herald. Hiding his sexuality while a player took its toll on his health and emotional well-being, but after coming out privately and retiring from the sport, Palmer has felt like a man reborn. He returned to school obtaining a double degree in science and psychology, and is working on his doctorate.
“I hadn’t realised [sic] until then, but this was the first time in my life I had truly felt free,” Palmer wrote. “Not long after, I decided I needed to stop playing rugby and begin the next chapter of my life.”
Zach Sullivan came out as bisexual on social media in January. He plays hockey in the Elite Ice Hockey League, the highest professional hockey league in the United Kingdom. He decided to make the revelation to coincide with the league’s first ever Pride Weekend. Sullivan is not just the first person in the league to come out, but is believed to be the first out bisexual man to play professional hockey.
I have never been more proud to wear a jersey before, especially one that celebrates all gender identities and sexualities.”
Canadian swimmer Markus Thormeyer realized his dream when he competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics, but it didn’t feel quite right. He wrote in OutSports that something was holding me back, the secret that he was gay. He feared rejection if he came out, but he eventually realized he had to be honest with himself, and his friends and teammates.
“Life is much better when you fully embrace you for who you are.”
In July, five-time British trampoline gymastics champion Luke Strong came out as bisexual. Having suffered homophobic jokes while growing up as a result of playing the sport, he was a bit hardened to any negative reception online.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Strong told the BBC. “I feel sorry for people like that who are close-minded and still think it’s offensive to be called gay — because it’s not.” At the time he said that though he was attracted to both men and women, he had never been in a relationship with either.
When Swiss professional volleyball player Dennis Del Valle revealed he was gay this year, the Puerto Rican native thought he was doing it for himself. But, after the outpouring of thanks and encouragement he received following the announcement he realized his act meant something more to a lot of people.
“While I thought I was doing something nice and special for myself,” Del Valle wrote in a Facebook post. “I didn’t realize how much more I was doing for others like me.”
When international soccer start Beattie came out as gay, he was only the third man in British professional sports to do so. A head injury forced an early retirement, and he's now a successful entrepreneur, but he felt it was important to come out because he sees so little LGBTQ+ representation on the pitch.
“The LGBTQ+ community doesn't have much representation in the world of professional football,” he told The Advocate. “If I can do anything to assist that process, I hope to do so.”