Eight Greats in Lesbian Sports
There's no question about it: She got game! From trailblazers to young Turks, this month EDGE brings you our top eight lesbian professional athletes. See how tennis legends like Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova opened the playing field for women since before Title IX legislation was enacted in 1972. And learn how today's ballers and hockey aces are inspiring new generations of female athletes to come. When it comes to playing hard and standing brave, these eight are truly great.
1. Tennis Legend Billie Jean King
When she was only 29 years old, Billie Jean King took the sports world by storm when she beat Bobby Riggs in 1973’s historic Battle of the Sexes, proving once and for all that women players are as good as men. She went on to found the Women’s Tennis Association and Virginia Slims, the first pro women’s tennis tour. Sadly, she lost her endorsements when her secretary, Marilyn Barnett, outed her by suing for palimony in 1981, at the end of their nearly decadelong relationship. She lost $2 million in endorsements within 24 hours and was no longer able to afford to retire. King went through some rocky times but became very involved in the Women’s Sports Foundation and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. President Barack Obama tapped her to lead a delegation of gays to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics, but she had to bail when her mother got sick and later died. King lives in New York and Chicago with her longtime partner, Ilana Kloss.
2. U.S. Women’s National Ice Hockey Star Caitlin Cahow
That’s no puck bunny -- that’s Caitlin Cahow, the Harvard University and Boston College Law School graduate who knows her way around a slap shot. Also tapped by President Obama as one of the gay delegates sent to represent the U.S. in Sochi, Cahow won a bronze medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin and a silver medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and this southpaw defender served as captain of the Boston Blades last season. Since she retired from the U.S. Women’s National Ice Hockey team, this advocate for concussion research in female athletes spends the occasional afternoon working on a lobster boat on her home island of Vinalhaven, off the coast of Maine.
3. Tennis Star Martina Navratilova
Since coming out in 1981, this Czechoslovakia defector and tennis legend spent her career not only racking up 59 Grand Slam crowns and nine Wimbledon singles champs, but also serving as a trailblazer for women and gay athletes. Billie Jean King reportedly still considers Martina Navratilova "the greatest singles, doubles and mixed doubles player who’s ever lived." Now a tennis coach, Navratilova is the face of Subaru and the Rainbow Card, has been honored by almost every LGBT organization there is, and continues to steer people toward healthy living with her book, "Shape Your Self."
4. WNBA Star Sheryl Swoopes
Back in the ’90s, basketball star Sheryl Swoopes tore up the court as a star player for the Texas Tech Lady Raiders before being recruited by the Houston Comets in 1997. In October 2005, she came out as a lesbian, letting folks know that she and her partner, former baller and Comets assistant coach Alisa Scott, hoped to tie the knot. Swoopes became a spokesperson for Olivia Cruises and was a regular at LGBT fundraisers. She now serves as head coach of the Loyola University Chicago’s women’s basketball team. And although she ditched Scott for a man, she still came out as a proud lesbian when few other pro ballers would.
5. WNBA Star Brittney Griner
Basketball star for the WNBA team Phoenix Mercury, Brittney Griner was the first NCAA player to score 2,000 points and block 500 shots. This three-time All-American won AP Player of the Year and the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four in 2012. She came out as a lesbian in April 2013 and shared her pains growing up gay and super-tall in her heartfelt memoir, "In My Skin." She’s taken some hits, including accusations that she missed the 2012 Olympics to avoid gender testing, and she was ejected from a game for throwing a punch at Texas Tech’s Jordan Barncastle. But Griner grew up and has emerged a role model for girl athletes and LGBT youth facing bullying.
6. Tennis Pro Amélie Mauresmo
French professional tennis player and former world No. 1 player Amélie Mauresmo snagged a silver medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics and was known for her powerful one-handed backhand. She came out as a lesbian in 1999, faced the jibes about her muscular physique, and went on to win two Grand Slam singles titles at Wimbledon and the Australian Open in 2006. She now works as a Wimbledon court advisor.
7. Women’s Pro Soccer Player Natasha Kai
The heavily tattooed, immensely talented American pro soccer forward Natasha Kai made her mark playing for Sky Blue FC and the Philadelphia Independence of Women’s Professional Soccer, scoring a hat trick against the former after she joined the latter. In the meantime, she managed to snag an Olympic gold medal. This Hawaiian-Chinese-Filipino player was named player of the year multiple times during her 2002 to 2005 turn with the University of Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine, and last February was selected to play for National Women’s Soccer League team Washington Spirit. This physical player is unapologetic about neither her athleticism nor her sexual orientation, and her large fan base champions her for that.
8. New York Sharks Football Player Lauren Pringle
At only 5 feet 4 inches and 135 pounds, Lauren Pringle isn’t the type of lesbian you’d instantly envision as the New York Sharks star wide receiver. But this Women’s Football Alliance player is as rough and tumble as they come. Women footballers don’t get paid; in fact, they have to pay $1,000 for the privilege of playing. Pringle doesn’t let it get her down. In 2013, the 30-year-old married her longtime partner, a Broadway performer, and her teammates threw her a bachelorette party during the bus ride home from an away game in Maryland. Looks like sisters really are doing it for themselves.