Professional tennis has always been an ever-changing landscape, with players missing tournaments due to injuries, personal reasons or simply aging out. But since the start of tennis, one thing has always been evident. And that’s the fact that there has never been the presence of an openly gay male tennis player on the professional tour.
There are no openly gay or bisexual men that compete professionally on the Men’s ATP Tour.
The ATP Tour (known as the ATP World Tour from January 2009 until December 2018) is a worldwide top-tier tennis tour for men organized by the Association of Tennis Professionals. The second-tier tour is the ATP Challenger Tour and the third-tier is ITF Men’s World Tennis Tour. The equivalent women’s organization is the WTA Tour.
We have covered other openly gay tennis players in the past but have not seen them on the professional circuit (EXCLUSIVE: Lendale Johnson on Being The First Openly Gay Tennis Player & More). Lendale Johnson and others have played on the third-tier ITF Men’s World Tennis Tour. Why was Michael Sam and Carl Nassib newsworthy? Because they were at the top-tier of football. Gay players existed at other levels and then there were those that would come out after they retired, but to have an active top-tier player in your sport come out as gay, it shows that there is forward progression of the sport as a whole working to accept LGBTQ players.
While the world is seeing male athletes in other sports compete as openly gay athletes at the top levels, as just mentioned, covered weekly on our televisions and on the front page of the sports pages, tennis seems to turn a blind eye when it comes to having healthy conversations surrounding the LGBTQIA community, visibility, and top-tier competition. Are they not ready to show their acceptance? Is there no top-tier player ready to be the first Michael or Carl?
Unlike the women’s tour (WTA), where there are tennis giants like the legendary Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova who are openly gay, the men’s tour seems as if they aren’t accepting of any male player who isn’t an alpha male warrior who grunts aggressively and beats his chest whenever they hit a winner. And there has been homophobic language slurred both on and off courts by male athletes. Most recently Italian tennis star Fabio Fognini yelled a homophobic slur out of “frustration” at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
Brian Vahaly (an American retired professional tennis player) came out as gay in 2017, 10 years after officially retiring from the sport. A former World No. 64, who competed professionally for 6 years, said that gay players may feel discouraged from being open about their sexuality because of “sponsors, fans, family and friendships.”
Vahaly told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that “it was impossible to go a week” without hearing homophobic slurs when he played on the ATP tour.
“When I was competing in the mid-2000s, I would not describe tennis as a very welcoming environment for gay players,” he said, adding he was hopeful that more gay, male players at the elite level would come out as acceptance grows in sport.
“We are slowly seeing brave young athletes out there in other sports willing to speak more publicly about their sexuality. We will get there in tennis”.
There are multiple female players, from many different generations, who are openly gay tennis players. From former World No. 1 and multiple Grand Slam winner Amelie Mauresmo, who at just 19 years old came out as a lesbian… to Belgian players Alison Van Uytvanck and Greet Minnen, who made history at Wimbledon 2019 when they became the first same-sex couple to compete in a doubles match. Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova were both outed in the early 1980’s, resulting in both of the tennis icons losing millions of dollars in endorsements.
Since then, it seems the WTA tour has advanced with the times and adjusted the mindset and culture of women’s tennis in regards to the gay community. And it’s apparent that the ATP tour still has an archaic mindset, even in modern times. As a gay male who is a major tennis fan, I hope that men’s professional tennis continues to uphold the prestige and traditions of tennis… but work to make it inclusive of all sexualities. Let’s end up on the right side of history fellas.
Source: Gay Times