5 John Amaechi – Basketball
John Amaechi may not have been an active player in the NBA like Jason Collins, but he was the first professional basketball player ever to openly admit that he is gay. The former Penn State center played five seasons in the NBA for three different teams, but came into the public spotlight in 2007 when he released the book “Man in the Middle,” which chronicled his life as a gay man in the NBA.
4 Orlando Cruz – Boxing
Professional featherweight boxer Orlando Cruz became the first active fighter to acknowledge openly that he is gay. Speaking out on the issue back in 2012, Cruz, a former Olympian for the Puerto Rican team and a professional fighter since 2000, told USA Today “I’ve been fighting for more than 24 years and as I continue my ascendant career, I want to be true to myself. I want to try to be the best role model I can be for kids.”
3 Sheryl Swoopes – Basketball
Sheryl Swoopes, former women’s basketball standout at Texas Tech, was the first player signed in the first-ever WNBA season back in 1997. Swoopes was a three-time league MVP, a three-time Olympic gold medal winner and is currently the head coach of the women’s team at Loyola University Chicago. Publicly coming out in 2005, Swoopes was quoted as saying “To me, the most important thing is happiness.”
2 Martina Navratilova – Tennis
One of the all-time professional tennis greats, Martina Navratilova came out as bisexual in 1981 and became the first superstar athlete to come out while still in the prime of her career. An 18-time grand slam singles and 31-time major doubles winner, Navratilova dominated women’s tennis in the 1980s and has since transcended sports and become a famous proponent for the LGBT community.
1 Gareth Thomas – Rugby
One of the most decorated players in Welsh rugby history, Gareth Thomas, now retired, made headlines back in 2009 when he came out as a gay man while still actively playing professional rugby. Thomas enjoyed a professional career of 15 years and said he decided to come out publicly in hopes of making “a big difference to others in my situation.”