Would like to see more gay athletes come out: Martina Navratilova
34 years on, while Martina Navratilova has become one of the biggest icons for gay rights, she lamented the fact that not many athletes, especially tennis players, took her lead
When Martina Navratilova revealed to the world that she was bisexual, way back in 1981, she endured a barrage of criticism and had to lose out on millions of dollars as many sponsors boycotted her.
Tennis great Martina Navratilova with Julia Lemigova during the 2014 US Open in New York City. Pic/Getty Images
Navratilova believed the decision was a wise one as she hoped it would inspire other athletes come out of the closet. However, 34 years on, while Navratilova has become one of the biggest icons for gay rights, she lamented the fact that not many athletes, especially tennis players, took her lead.
"I would have liked to have seen more athletes come out. I would certainly like to see more tennis players come out. I can't believe that there is never been a male player that has taken that step," Navratilova, who married longtime girlfriend Julia Lemigova in December last year, told reporters over the phone on Tuesday night.
Difficult in team sports
She added: "It's more difficult when you play team sports. As a tennis player, I could always play. Nobody could tell me, 'no, you can't play,' but in team sports, it's more difficult. Of course, it depends on what country you are in, because we still have countries where homosexuality is punishable by death.
In America, we are fighting for equal rights and for the right to marry. In other countries, people are fighting for the right to stay alive. So it's a different situation and it's very individual, as is the decision to come out or not."
Less backlash now
The 58-year-old tennis legend, in fact, believes that coming out helped her better her game. "The fact that I came out affected me… I was able to play better tennis and become the person that I am," Navratilova, who has won 59 Grand Slam titles, added.
Navratilova, who is a member of the Laureus World Sports Academy, also believes that if an athlete were to come out of the closet now, they would not face the same backlash as she did.
"With each passing celebrity coming out or athlete, it becomes less of a big deal and that's eventually what we want it to be. Right now, it still matters, and one day, it won't matter. (But) I think times have changed. I don't think players will have to go through anything like what I went through 30 years ago."