Carl Nassib, a defensive lineman for the Las Vegas Raiders, has made history by becoming the first active NFL player to announce he is gay.

Former pro Michael Sam came out in 2013, but spent most of his career in the Canadian CFL, and never represented an NFL club during the regular season.

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Both Nassib and Sam have joined a long and illustrious list of trailblazing athletes who have made a huge difference in turning professional sport into a more inclusive place.

Glenn Burke and Jason Collins


American athletes Glenn Burke and Jason Collins both became the first openly gay players in their respective leagues, but they did so more than 30 years apart with radically different results.

Burke came out to his teammates and coaches in the 1970s, while playing baseball for the LA Dodgers, and suffered homophobic abuse for the rest of his short career. He was out of sport by age 27, and later stated that "prejudice drove me out of baseball".

In 2014, basketball player Collins became the first openly gay man in the NBA, and experienced much more public support, including from then-President Barack Obama.

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King playing at Wimbledon in 1980 (PA)
Billie Jean King playing at Wimbledon in 1980 (PA)

Billie Jean King was not the first openly gay tennis player but has done more for social justice than many full-time activists. Winner of the infamous "Battle of the Sexes" match against Bobby Riggs in 1973, Jean King is perhaps better known for her valiant battle against sexism, but has said in interviews that coming out in the 1970s might have damaged the fledgling women’s tour.

She finally came out publicly in 1981, amid difficult circumstances. "The essence was I was outed," she told the Television Critics Association in 2013.

Tom Daley

The British diver and Olympic gold medallist and his husband Dustin Lance Black have long been outspoken about gay rights. After winning a fourth Commonwealth Games medal in 2018, Daley took to Twitter to highlight that homosexuality was still illegal in 37 of the countries he was competing against, prompting an outpouring of support.

Gus Kenworthy

British-American skier Gus Kenworthy had no clue he was being filmed by NBC when his boyfriend gave him a good luck kiss ahead of his first slopestyle run at the Winter Olympics in South Korea, 2018. The moment went viral, and after two disastrous falls in the final, Kenworthy was baffled when the waiting media clamoured to hear about "the kiss".

Four years earlier Kenworthy had won silver in Russia, which had recently unveiled a sweeping set of new anti-gay laws. Now his casual gesture had become, completely inadvertently, an historic moment.

Justin Fashanu and Thomas Hitzlsperger

At present, the English Premier League can’t count a single openly gay man among its players. Justin Fashanu came out in 1990, and was frequently abused and victimised, while Thomas Hitzlsperger came out in 2014, a year after his retirement.

In 2020 Watford captain Troy Deeney said he was sure there was at least one gay player in every dressing room, and the Rainbow Laces campaign has been attempting to create a more LGBT-friendly atmosphere in the Prem.

Gareth Thomas

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When Gareth Thomas retired he was the Welsh national team’s most capped player and third highest ever try-scorer, but his most important legacy may lie off the field. Thomas came out publicly in 2009 – the first rugby union pro to do so – and came out as HIV positive in 2019, before completing an Ironman triathlon the next day to help break the stigma around the illness.

He has campaigned tirelessly on both counts ever since, and was made an CBE in 2020 for services to health and sport.