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The Year in Sports

The Year in Sports


When some people think of sports, they don't necessarily think about gays -- a big mistake. Here is just a slice of some of 2010's biggest stories within the overlap of LGBT people and sports.


- The biggest story in soccer this year was Spain's upset win against the Netherlands in the World Cup, but on the gay rights front, the two countries that made it to the top had legalized marriage equality. And on top of that, they faced off in host country South Africa, the only African nation to also extend marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples.

- The world scratched its collective head at the announcement that the World Cup would be held in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, but a comment from the Sepp Blatter (pictured), the president of international soccer's governing body, FIFA, caused a few jaws to drop. When some expressed concerns that the 2022 World Cup would be held in the Middle East, a region of the world that currently criminalizes homosexuality, Blatter said gay soccer players and fans "should refrain from sexual activities" that are illegal in Qatar.

- One coach whose name was emblazoned all over the Web was Belmont University women's soccer coach Lisa Howe. When she told the athletic department of her school that her partner was due to give birth to their child, she was allegedly forced out of her coaching position, told that there was no place on the university's staff for gay people. Since then, athletes, students, faculty, alumni, and even the president of the university have reacted in solidarity with Howe.


- Glenn Burke (pictured) may have been a name that time forgot, but a documentary premiered in November, celebrating his life. Burke, a former Dodger and Oakland A's player, died of AIDS complications in 1995 at the age of 42. Burke played for the Dodgers as an outfielder from 1976 to 1978 and the A's from 1978 to 1979. In 1982, after he retired, Burke came out as gay. Some say Burke was run out of the game once his sexual orientation was discovered, leading him to a life of drug use, homelessness, and prison time. His life has been commemorated in the Comcast SportsNet documentaryOut: The Glenn Burke Story.

- In a lawsuit that raised questions about sexuality and tolerance, three softball players sued the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance for discrimination. Five members of the team D2 were grilled about their sexuality to determine whether the team had enough gay members to qualify for the 2008 Gay Softball World Series. A board deemed three of them (who, incidentally, were African-American) "nongay," disqualifying the Bay Area team from competition, even though at least one of the dropped players identified as bisexual. (The other two players, who are white, were readmitted onto the team.) The NAGAA published an open letter in late April defending its decision to disqualify the team. The organization likened itself to other groups that organize around around a commonality, such as race.


- Female professional golfers voted November 30 to allow transgender women the opportunity to tee off. This comes after Lana Lawless, 57, sued the Ladies' Professional Golf Association and the Long Drivers of America because she wanted to compete in the annual long drive competition. She won the event in 2008, but was turned away from playing this year, because the Long Drivers of America decided to change its policies to reflect the LPGA's, which stated that players could only compete in the league if they were certifiably "female at birth." The members of the LPGA then voted to change their constitution, welcoming transgender female golfers.


- When Kye Allums came out to teammates and coaches, he probably did not want it to be such a big deal. But his coming out as a transgender male while still competing on the George Washington University women's basketball team opened a dialogue about transgender people in sports. So much so that the NCAA, the governing body for college sports, announced clarified guidelines for transgender athletes.

- In May, President Barack Obama declared the University of Connecticut's women's basketball team the best sports team in the U.S. after UConn won the national championship. The Huskies attended the White House for a ceremony to celebrate their big win. The team started with a 78-game winning streak this fall and in December surpassed UCLA's record of 88-straight wins.


- Former West Point cadet Katie Miller made headlines when she came out publicly and then left the prestigious military academy because she did not agree with the law barring gay people from openly serving in the military. There, Miller was at the top of her class athletically. This year, Miller decided to transfer to Yale, where she is currently playing on the women's rugby team. When Yale faced off against West Point this year, Miller said the experience was mostly respectful, but she still faced some hostility by onlookers.

- Brendan Burke (left), the 21-year-old son of Toronto Maple Leafs manager Brian Burke (right), died in a two-car accident in Indiana in February. In 2009, the younger Burke, a student manager for the hockey team at Ohio's Miami University, became an icon for gay rights in sports when ESPN ran a story about how he came out to his family and their support for him. Burke's legacy lives on with a scholarship in his name for young people who want to pursue careers in sports like he aspired to, his father's open support for gay youth, and the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks's decision to march in the city's gay pride parade in honor of Burke, led by defenseman Brent Sopel.

Track and Field
- Caster Semenya has been a big deal in this sport for a couple of years. After winning the the 800-meter race in the 2009 track and field world championship in Berlin, a question about her gender launched an 11-month investigation and testing to determine if she is female. Semenya was cleared to compete as a woman in July 2010, just in time, but she was viewed with suspicion when she was still beating her peers. Canadian sprinter Diane Cummins criticized the International Association of Athletics Federations for allowing her to run, and Italy's Elisa Cusma Piccione simply said, "For me, she is a man."

Winter Olympics
- All eyes were on figure skater Johnny Weir at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, when he took to the ice hoping for Olympic gold. Some may not have known Weir before the games, but his dispute with gold medalist Evan Lysacek, a complaint against a pair of broadcasters for their homophobic remarks about the flamboyant skater, and avant-garde style made him a household name.

- Dutch lesbian speed skater Ireen Wust beat the odds, winning the gold in the women's 1,500-meter event with 1:56:89. "I can't describe how happy I am," she said after her big win." I don't have the words for it. I think I'm the happiest person on earth right now."

- And New Zealander Blake Skjellerup (pictured) came out a couple of months after the Olympics, but we won't hold it against him.

- Tennis legend Martina Navratilova's (pictured) year of ups and downs started with her February diagnosis with breast cancer, which she described as her "personal 9/11." After a biopsy, lumpectomy, and six months of radiation treatments in Paris (all while continuing her commentary duties for the Tennis Channel), Navratilova came back swinging. Shortly after finishing her last round of treatment, Navratilova went back to competing, capturing the French Open senior women's and Wimbledon women's invitational doubles titles this summer with Jana Novotna. The tennis great ended the year with an unsuccessful attempt to climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in an effort to raise funds for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, but she said from her Nairobi, Kenya, hospital bed that she was happy to be a part of the 27-member team heading toward the top.

- Power player Serena Williams tied lesbian icon Billie Jean King's record by winning her fifth Australian Open title in January. King was in the stands to watch the 28-year-old Williams defeat Justine Henin in three sets to win her 12th career major title. Williams said she "felt really special" for sharing the title with King because "in my heart of hearts, I've been going for it and I haven't been able to quite achieve it. Billie Jean is a really big mentor of mine." King told reporters that when Williams "plays her best, she's the best ever."

- Apparently, it's not quite "don't ask, don't tell" in football -- during the draft period, Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins said at least one pro football team asked whether he was gay. Unfortunately he did not reveal which team asked. Also during the the draft, Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland asked wide receiver Dez Bryant, whether his mother, who is a lesbian, was ever a prostitute. Bryant went on to play for the Dallas Cowboys.

- Football may be one of the country's more rough-and-tumble sports, but that doesn't mean the guys playing the game are too macho to be pro-gay. Linebacker Scott Fujita, just days before a big win at the Super Bowl when he was still playing for the New Orleans Saints (he's now with the Cleveland Browns), told The Advocate how supportive he is of gay rights. Saints quarterback Drew Brees went on The Ellen DeGeneres Show to express how damaging bullying could be. "I want my fans to know that if you're making fun of everyone because they're different, then you are no friend of mine," he said. And New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie (pictured) was one of the notable sports figures to pose for the No H8 campaign, showing his endorsement of gay rights.

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