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Sports: Gay Male  
 
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Kopay, who remains active as a speaker, is an important figure in that he exemplifies the fact that gay men can and do compete as athletes. He has spoken of his frustration that there was no parade of others who followed his lead.

Kopay told the cable sports network ESPN that a liaison with Jerry Smith, a star tight end with the Washington Redskins from 1965 to 1977, was "my first real coming-out experience." Although Smith died of complications from AIDS in 1987, he never publicly acknowledged his homosexuality.

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One elite athlete did follow Kopay in coming out publicly in the 1970s, however. Soon after winning a gold medal in figure skating in the 1976 Olympics, John Curry held a press conference to announce his homosexuality.

His courageous act was discounted in the athletic world, partly because figure skating was considered more artistic than athletic and was not associated with the exaggerated masculinity of football. Nevertheless, Curry's forthrightness inspired other skaters, including the 1976 Olympic bronze medalist and Canadian champion Toller Cranston, to a new openness.

Athletes in the 1980s

The 1980s was a time of transition for gay male athletes. "Though athletics have always had homosexual participants, open discussion of their experiences or rights has been taboo. It was not until the 1980s, for example, that sport scientists, physical educators and athletic administrators began to formally discuss homosexuality," write Messner and Sabo.

For most of the decade, no active major athlete declared his homosexuality. In 1982, Glenn Burke, who had played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics in the 1970s, revealed his homosexuality in a Sports Illustrated article, but his story--and the reactions to it--did little more than confirm the homophobia so prevalent in professional baseball.

Journalists covering the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles heard reports that two gold medal winners were about to declare that they were gay. But no one ever stepped forward.

On a parallel track, however, the decade saw the emergence of a vibrant gay and lesbian recreational sports scene. The vitality of sport in gay and lesbian communities was demonstrated by the San Francisco debut in 1982 of the Gay Games, a quadrennial event conceived by Dr. Tom Waddell. By 1990, Gay Games III in Vancouver included 9,500 registered athletes, a seven-fold increase from 1982.

The decade closed with two sports figures having very public coming-outs, one on each side of the Atlantic. Dave Pallone, a baseball umpire, was fired in 1988 for his alleged involvement in a teen-age sex ring, charges that were later deemed groundless. Pallone contended in his book Behind the Mask (1990) that he was really fired for being gay, having privately come out to then baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti.

Pressure from some team owners caused his firing, Pallone contended, and Giamatti's widow has said the firing was a decision her husband later regretted.

Also in 1988, Justin Fashanu, a star English soccer player, revealed that he was gay. He is believed to be the first gay male athlete in a team sport to come out during his career. Fashanu had a difficult life afterwards, as he exhibited often erratic public behavior. In 1998 he committed suicide in London at a time when he was wanted in the United States on charges of sexually assaulting a teenager in Maryland.

Athletes in the 1990s

The 1990s saw an increased tolerance of gay life in the Western world. Bill Clinton was elected President of the United States in 1992 while publicly courting gay voters, and gay men and lesbians became more visible than ever. Gay issues began to be featured regularly in movies and television shows and in the news media.

The sports world, while still lagging behind in its acknowledgment of gays in its midst, especially men, was not immune to these changes.

The American basketball star Magic Johnson announced in 1991 that he had acquired the virus that causes AIDS. Although Johnson insisted that he contracted the disease from heterosexual contact, his admission nonetheless sparked coverage of AIDS and, by extension, gay issues in the one place where they had been all but invisible: the sports world.

Articles and broadcasts dealt with the possible transmission of the virus on the field of play; and the media, in several examinations of the topic, conceded that there were gays competing at the highest levels of sport, even if they remained closeted.

In 1992, Roy Simmons, who had been an offensive linebacker for the NFL's Washington Redskins and New York Giants in the early 1980s, came out on a national television talk show, "Donahue." Following the revelation, Simmons faded into obscurity, but in 2003, on World AIDS Day, he revealed that he had been diagnosed with AIDS in 1997.

In 1994 the Gay Games were held for the fourth time. They coincided with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion, considered to be the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. Moreover, they were held in New York City, the media capital of the United States.

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