Tennis legend Martina Navratilova believes attitudes are changing in terms of homophobia in sport and that gay NFL player Michael Sam has paved the way for other athletes to be open about their sexuality.
During a visit to Doncaster’s BT call centre to promote her work for BT Sport, the record-breaking tennis ace spoke exclusively to South Yorkshire Newspapers’ sports writer Hayley Paterson about the progress made in tackling homophobia - particularly in sport.
Navratilova proved a pioneering figure in the world of sport for not only her incredible performances on the court, but for also being one of the first openly gay athletes.
St Louis Rams’ new recruit Sam has also recently made history by being the first openly gay football player to be drafted into the NFL.
And Navratilova expects more to follow because attitudes are changing with regards to sexuality in sport.
“Michael is the first but certainly not the last. Once the first opens the door, the floodgates will open and I think there will be a lot more athletes who will come out,” said the nine-time Wimbledon champion.
“It’s tricky because to be the first, there’s so much attention on Michael - good or bad.
“But he certainly seems to have big shoulders to tackle that pressure.”
The 59-time Grand Slam champion went on: “Eventually what I want, and what the LGBT community wants, is for that not to matter - so you don’t have to take a stand, you don’t have to proclaim your sexuality.
“It shouldn’t be an issue whether the guy kisses a guy or a girl, it shouldn’t matter.
“One day it won’t matter. Right now, it matters a great deal and many people still have problems with it, but attitudes are changing and public sentiment is changing as we are more in the spotlight.
“People are always afraid of what they don’t know. You look at history and every nation, every culture thought that the other were Barbarians. ‘They smell bad and they treat their women bad and they take our women and they all think that about each other’.
“Then they get to know each other and think ‘Oh, they’re not like that at all’.
“It’s the same way with different cultures, different colours and now different sexualities so the more we’re out in the open, the more people realise and say ‘Hey, this is not what I thought it was and it’s cool, it’s okay. Live and let live.’”
Speaking on the progress made in tackling homophobia in sport, Navratilova added: “I’m not a very patient person but at the same time things have taken on turbo speed now over the last five years.
“For a while there was nothing going on, or very little, but now things are moving pretty quickly.
“My mother used to tell me ‘Why are you the one holding the flag?’ and I used to say ‘Well, there’s nobody behind me, so I keep holding it’.
“But now there are plenty and I’m more like ‘Please take it, I’ll go along for the ride!’.
“So it’s taken longer than I thought but at the same time, it’s moving faster than I thought it would.”
If you are an openly gay sportsman or woman in Doncaster and would like to tell your story, email: firstname.lastname@example.org