Athlete Ally is partnering with the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) to launch the Legends and Leaders List of 2014 honoring Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, Queer and Intersexed (LGBTQI) leaders of color in sports. The list was composed of LGBTQI people of color who have emerged as the leaders and legends in the global effort for LGBT inclusion in sports. These individuals inspire countless young people and make living out loud possible.
“I am honored to work with my staff to launch this together in partnership with the NBJC. Athlete Ally is committed to acknowledging the voices of the past to empower the voices of the future,” said Athlete Ally Youth Programs Director Akil Patterson. “Across major sports teams, Black Americans have had a strong presence in numbers, skill and popularity. We need the voices of LGBT leaders of color now more than ever and I am proud to be part of a great organization that is committed to uplifting these young men and women. The NBJC shares in that mission and I could not think of a better partner.”
“The celebration of dynamic Black LGBT athletes is long overdue, and I am proud that NBJC is able to partner with Athlete Ally to recognize these extraordinary individuals making a difference in the world of sports,” said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, NBJC’s Executive Director and CEO. “Core to the work of NBJC is to foster environments where all people–regardless of race, class, gender identity or sexual orientation–are able to participate openly and honestly in their communities, free of discrimination. The barriers that these athletes, both young and seasoned, have broken down by living their truth only makes our nation stronger and plants the seeds for a future where diversity is welcomed and not viewed as a hindrance.”
Support for and reflection on the accomplishments of our community are paramount as we continue to empower leaders of today and tomorrow. Take a moment to learn more about these leaders and recognize their contributions. Stay tuned for future installments, as the present list accounts for only a select few of our legends and leaders.
Kye Allums is a former Division I women’s basketball player at George Washington University. Prior to playing basketball at the Division I level, Allums was a three-time honorable mention Minnesota All-States section athlete. Allums helped lead Centennial High to be ranked in the USA Today Super 25 ranking with an overall finish 27-1. Allums’ success on the court landed him a scholarship to play for George Washington University’s women’s basketball team. After competing for three years at George Washington University, Allums became the first openly transgender NCAA Division II college athlete in 2010. Allums is now a transgender advocate serving as a mentor to LGBT youth.
Dorien Bryant is an American football wide receiver who is currently a free agent. Prior to being signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dorien received second-team sophomore All-American honors from College Football News. He was awarded outstanding performance on the field, and this led him to be selected as the College Offensive Player of the Year by the Touchdown Club of Southern New Jersey. Later in his collegiate football career, he earned first-team All-Big Ten Conference honors from the media and set his school’s record for all-purpose yards. Bryant’s performance on the field projected him to be drafted in the seventh round by NFLDraftScout.com. While at Purdue, Bryant was outed and denied that he was gay. Due to his sexuality, Bryant was taunted in a game against Indiana State, which helped him realize that he did not want to hide his sexuality for an entire pro career. He went undrafted in the 2008 NFL Draft, but later signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a free agent. His truth to self is a testament to young people of color to live openly and honestly in all aspects of life.
Glenn is the first and only MLB player known to come out as gay during his professional career. Prior to playing professional baseball, Burke was a standout high school basketball star, leading his high school team to an undefeated season and the 1970 Northern California championships. He was considering becoming a professional basketball player, but accepted his first offer to play in Major League Baseball instead. At the beginning of his baseball career, he was often referred to as the next Willie Mays by his assistant coach. However, his talent on the field was soon to be overshadowed by the discrimination he had to endure due to his sexuality. Burke left professional sports at age 27. He told People magazine in 1994 that his “mission as a gay ballplayer was to break a stereotype” and that he thought “it worked.” Burke passed away in 1995 due to complications from AIDS. Glen Burke is a true trailblazer who paved the way for LGBT athletes to live openly and proudly.
LeQuan Chapman is a junior jumper of the Shippensburg University men’s track & field team. Chapman transferred to Shippensburg University from West Chester University in his junior year to gain a fresh start, coming out and feeling accepted by his athletic community. LeQuan’s dedication on the field has led to his being named the PSAC Men’s Indoor Field Athlete of the Week from his standout performance at Gulden Invitational hosted by Bucknell University. Along with this milestone accomplishment for not only LeQuan, but also for Shippensburg’s athletic program, he has been ranked as high as 6th in Division II for long jump and 13th in Division II for triple jump. It is no surprise that LeQuan’s success on the field has led him to be ranked second in long jump and first in triple jump in the PSAC. He made the choice to come out by telling his own story via Outsports.com.
Jason Collins, a Black American professional basketball player, broke down a huge barrier in 2013 when he proclaimed to the world that he was gay. Prior to being drafted to the NBA, he attended Stanford University, where he was an All-American in 2000-2001. Jason’s success on the court led to him being named to the All-Pac 10 First Team. The National Association of Basketball Coaches voted him to their All-American Third Team. Jason’s outstanding accolades throughout his college career include being ranked first in Stanford’s history for field goal percentage and third in blocked shots, leading Jason to be selected in the first round with the 18th overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft. Jason quickly applied his talent as a rookie to play a significant role in the New Jersey Nets’ first-ever trip to the NBA Finals. Jason’s decision to openly talk about his sexual orientation in 2013 brought positive attention to LGBT athletes around the world. Following his announcement as a gay athlete, Collins has used the media to spread awareness on the challenges LGBT athletes have to endure. His dedication for change and advocacy for LGBT equality brought national attention to the issue when his Sports Illustrated story drew a record 3.7 million visitors to the magazine’s website. On February 23, Jason again made history as the first openly gay male to play in one of the four major sports leagues (NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL), when he signed a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets.
Wade Davis is a former NFL Defensive cornerback. Wade is a nationally recognized speaker, activist, writer and educator. Davis formerly played for the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks, as well as two different teams within the NFL Europe league. Wade is the newly named Executive Director of the You Can Play Project, an organization dedicated to ending discrimination and homophobia in sports. Last year, Davis co-founded the You Belong Initiative, which partnered with the NBA, You Can Play, and other LGBT Sports groups to provide the world’s first LGBTQ sports camp to inner-city youth. Also member of the 2013 HBO “Out List”, Davis has written for the New York Times, Huffington Post, Outsports.com, and other major media outlets. Davis appears on the boards of the GLSEN Sports Project and Go! Athletes. He’s the former assistant director of academic enrichment and work readiness for the Hetrick Martin Institute, where he taught inner-city LGBTQ youth how to define success for themselves. We salute Wade for his accomplishments and willingness to be a role model for LGBT youth and athletes.
Josh Dixon is a U.S. Men’s Senior National Team member for his distinguished achievements in gymnastics. Josh, a recent graduate from Stanford University, was one of the 15 athletes who were eligible to represent the United States in international competitions. Prior to joining the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team, Josh was a four-time member of the USA Junior National Team throughout high school and an All-American in college. In his junior year at Stanford, Dixon started exploring his sexuality and quickly learned he was not the only gay male athlete at Stanford. Once he came out during his senior year, there was nothing distracting Josh from reaching his goal to compete at the Olympic Games. His distinguished accomplishments led to him training for the Olympic Trials. Although he fell short of making the Olympic team, Josh is more focused than ever on continuing his athletic career in gymnastics.
Justin Fashanu was a former professional English football player. While competing for Norwich City, he scored 40 goals in a total of 103 senior appearances, leading him to winning the BBC Goal of the Season award. Years later, he became the only prominent player in English football to publicly come out as gay. After coming out, Justin’s former colleagues spoke out against him. Due to his sexuality, he became the target of constant crowd abuse. Years later, Justin’s life was cut short when he committed suicide. Although Justin ended his life before he could see the world begin to change, his resilience to serve as a role model for the LGBT community lives on today.
Fallon Fox is an American mixed martial artist (MMA). Fox is a professional Mixed Martial Arts Fighter specializing in the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling, and Muay Thai. She began training in 2008 and currently has a record of 3-1-0. Fallon trains at Midwest Training Center in Schaumburg, Illinois, alongside her talented teammates. In 2013, Fallon came out as the first openly transgender athlete in MMA history. In addition to competing, Fox is pursuing speaking engagements to empower transgender people and raise awareness about transgender issues.
Emile Griffith was a former professional boxer from the U.S. Virgin Islands who became a World Champion in the Welterweight and Middleweight classes. Prior to Emile’s professional career, he won the 1958 New York Golden Gloves Open Championship. Later in his professional career, he captured the Welterweight title from Cuban Benny. After 18 years as a professional boxer, Emile retired with a record of 85 wins. Emile’s life was filled with hardship, but his fight as a Black man in a time when the struggle was never ending will always be remembered by countless generations to come.
Brittney Griner is a professional Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) player who currently plays for the Phoenix Mercury. After years of struggling to accept her sexuality, Griner publicly came out as lesbian in 2013. Prior to coming out and being drafted to the WNBA, Brittney played college basketball at Baylor University. As a freshman, Griner was recognized as one of the greatest shot blockers in women’s basketball history. Brittney’s outstanding talent on the court helped Baylor finish its undefeated season with 40 wins, the most in NCAA history. Needless to say, Brittney’s record-breaking achievements landed her as the 1st overall draft pick for Phoenix Mercury. This accomplishment made her the first openly gay or lesbian athlete ever taken first overall in any professional league.
Kwame Harris is a former American football offensive tackle who played six seasons in the National Football League (NFL). Prior to being selected by the San Francisco 49ers, Kwame was a top-rated offensive lineman on Stanford University’s football team. Throughout his football career at Stanford, Kwame twice earned all-conference honors and was an honorable mention All-American in his final season. His standout performance on the field landed him as the 26th overall pick in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Throughout his NFL career, Kwame played six seasons, starting 55 times in 86 games. Soon after retiring from the NFL, Harris became one of the few NFL players to publicly acknowledge being gay.
Akil Patterson is a former Division I football player at the University at Maryland. After years of depression and struggling to accept his sexuality, Akil began telling his California University teammates he was gay in 2006. After his football career, he became a highly-ranked Greco-Roman wrestler and volunteer University of Maryland wrestling coach. Today, Patterson shares his story as a gay athlete at conferences throughout the country and is the Youth Program Director at Athlete Ally. He is recognized as one of the foremost leaders in the space of LGBT sports and had the honor of coaching Athlete Ally Founder Hudson Taylor while at Maryland.
Fredrick Rosser is an American professional wrestler, currently signed to WWE under the ring name Darren Young. Prior to signing with WWE, he attended Fairleigh Dickinson University where he played football for a year. Later in life, Fredrick competed in Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern independent promotions including Chaotic Wrestling and the National Wrestling Alliance. He was later signed to the WWE and became the first active WWE performer to come out publicly as gay.
Michael Sam is an American football defensive end. Before attending the University of Missouri, Sam attended Hitchcock High School in Hitchcock, Texas. At Hitchcock, he earned first-team All-District honors as a defensive lineman in all four years of high school. His outstanding performance on the field landed him an athletic scholarship to compete for the University of Missouri’s football team. At the University of Missouri, Sam led the SEC in both sacks and tackles for a loss, and tied Missouri’s single-season record for sacks. He was later named SEC Defensive Player of the Week in two consecutive weeks. After his senior season, Walter Camp Football Foundation named him a first-team All-American. The following year, Sam became one of the first publicly gay college football players. If he is drafted in the 2014 NFL Draft or signed by an NFL team as an undrafted free agent, he could become the first publicly gay active player in NFL history.
Former NFL player Roy Simmons recently passed away, and in his honor, he will be a part of our inaugural class of Black LGBT Legends and Leaders of Sports. Simmons, a star at Georgia Tech, was drafted as an offensive lineman in the eighth round by the Giants in 1979 and played four years in the NFL–three for the Giants and one for the Redskins. At 6 feet 3 inches and 260 pounds, he had been called Sugar Bear by his teammates since college. He played the last game of his career with the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII. Simmons came out in 1992 on the “Phil Donohue Show,” becoming the second former player in the NFL’s history to do so. Simmons also became the first and only former NFL player to come out as HIV-positive in 2003, after living privately with the diagnosis for six years. We honor Roy for overcoming his life challenges and opening the door for many others to acknowledge their sexuality. Without Roy’s powerful story, athletes like Michael Sam and Jason Collins may have never had the liberty to talk about sexuality in sports. Today, we all take a moment to honor Roy as a legend in the world of sports.
Sheryl Swoopes is a retired American professional basketball player and the head coach of the women’s basketball team at Loyola University Chicago. Prior to coaching, Sheryl was recognized as one of the best female basketball players of all time. Sheryl gained national attention by scoring over 1,000 points in 46 games. She reached this milestone accomplishment in a shorter period of time than anyone else in Texas Tech University’s history. Along with her all-time scoring record, she displayed her outstanding talent in the 1993 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship, where she proved to be a key player by scoring 47 points to help Texas Tech defeat Ohio State in the final game. Soon after, Sheryl was named Most Valuable Player of the NCAA Final Four Championships. After graduating from Texas Tech University, Sheryl continued her success on the court with the USA Basketball Women’s National Team. Throughout her career, she was able to help the U.S. Olympic Team win gold in 1996, along with helping the Houston Comets win four back-to-back WNBA Championships from 1997 to 2000. After years of breaking records in the WNBA, Sheryl announced that she would be returning to college basketball as a coach. Soon after, in October 2005, she became one of the highest profile athletes in a team sport to come out. Although coaching the women’s basketball team at Loyola University Chicago is her first time in a coaching position, she is determined to continue her success in helping the program grow. Today, NBJC and Athlete Ally salute the accomplishments of this incredible woman who is truly making a difference in sports.
This list was compiled in partnership by Athlete Ally Youth Programs and the National Black Justice Coalition.