The words 'coming out' represent a nearly universal experience, and often a defining moment, for members of the LGBTQ+ community. For International Coming Out Day on October 11, ESPN spoke to 17 out athletes from around the world about their journeys.
Athletes from Argentina to Australia, America to Africa, and many other places between, shared details of their search for identity, why they came out publicly, and how their lives have changed as a result.
READ: 17 LGBTQ+ athletes share their coming out journeys | In Spanish | In Dutch
'I'm braver than I thought': South African footballer Phuti Lekoloane tells his coming out story
Football goalkeeper Phuti Lekoloane [he/him], 30, is the only recorded out gay male footballer in South Africa to play at a high level. He has featured in the country's third division, professionally, but says being out has severely damaged his career.
'Love is a human right': India sprinter Dutee Chand tells her coming out story
Indian sprinter Dutee Chand [she/her], 25, came out publicly as a lesbian in 2019, and is one of her country's first recorded publicly out LGBTQ+ sportspeople. Chand is India's current women's 100m champion, and competed at the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games.
'It was the worst-kept secret': Rugby League legend Ian Roberts tells his coming out story
Australian rugby league legend Ian Roberts [he/him], 56, came out as gay in 1994 and continued to play top tier club football until his retirement in 1998. He went on to an acting career, appearing in Star Wars II - Attack of the Clones, and in Superman Returns.
'Just be true to yourself': Australian footballer Michelle Heyman tells her coming out story
Michelle Heyman [she/her], a former footballer for Australia and currently with Canberra United in the A-League Women, came out publicly as a lesbian in 2010. Heyman competed at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, and for Team Australia at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
'It's tiring, living in denial': Racing driver Charlie Martin tells her coming out story
Endurance racing driver Charlie Martin [she/her], 40, came out to the public as transgender in 2018, and says she started her transition in 2012. Martin competed in the Michelin Le Mans Cup in 2019, and was the first out trans person to race in the 24 Hours of Nürburgring event, in 2020. Martin is a Stonewall, Racing Pride, and Athlete Ally ambassador.
'I don't know why I was so worried': Ireland Paralympian Katie-George Dunlevy tells her coming out story
Ireland Paralympic champion Katie-George Dunlevy [she/her], 39, won cycling gold and silver medals at both the Rio and Tokyo Olympic Games, in the blind tandem events, along with pilot Eve McCrystal.
'You're not weird for being gay': Netherlands footballer Merel van Dongen tells her coming out story
Netherlands women's national team defender Merel van Dongen [she/her], 28, plays her club football for Atletico Madrid, and played collegiate soccer for Alabama Crimson Tide. She played for the Oranjevrouwen at the 2015 and 2019 FIFA Women's World Cups, finishing second to the USA at the latter.
Read Merel van Dongen's interview in Dutch HERE
'Now I know what the letters mean': Netherlands athlete Ramsey Angela tells his coming out story
Netherlands track star Ramsey Angela [he/him], 21, claimed silver in the men's 4x400m relay at the Tokyo Olympics. Angela has never issued a statement about being gay, allowing Instagram posts with his boyfriend to do the work for him, and says he has never felt the need to come out in the press.
Read Ramsey Angela's interview in Dutch HERE
'Humanity is moving forwards': Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Lola Gallardo tells her coming out story
Spain women's national team goalkeeper Lola Gallardo [she/her], 28, has spent the bulk of her club career with Atletico Madrid, with a brief spell at Olympique Lyon, where she won the UEFA Women's Champions League. She competed at the 2015 and 2019 FIFA Women's World Cups.
Read Lola Gallardo's interview in Spanish HERE
'Be your own hero': Olympic diver Greg Louganis tells his coming out story
Olympic diving legend Greg Louganis [he/him], 61, won four gold medals across back-to-back Olympic Games, in 1984 and 1988. He came out publicly as gay at the Gay Games in 1994, but was out to those around him from an early age.
'I want to be someone to look up to': WNBA star Brittney Griner tells her coming out story
WNBA star Brittney Griner [she/her], 30, was the number 1 overall pick at the 2013 WNBA Draft, and publicly discussed being gay soon afterwards. She plays for the Phoenix Mercury, who picked her at the Draft after a stellar career at Baylor, and is a seven-time WNBA All-Star.
'It's so scary, but you feel so powerful': Olympian Adam Rippon tells his coming out story
Former USA figure skater Adam Rippon [he/him], 31, is a Winter Olympic medalist, winning bronze in the team event in PyeongChang in 2018. He came out as gay in 2015, and went on to win the 2016 US Championships.
'We're out here, you're not alone': USA skateboarder Alana Smith tells their coming out story
Skateboarder Alana Smith [they/them], 20, competed for Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics, and was among notable out non-binary athletes at the Games, alongside footballer Quinn of Canada. Smith came out as bisexual at 16, and non-binary in 2021.
'I was ready to be more authentic': US footballer Collin Martin tells his coming out story
San Diego Loyal footballer Collin Martin [he/him], 26, publicly came out as gay in 2018, while playing for Minnesota United FC in Major League Soccer. At the time, he was the only out male professional athlete in a major American league.
'I could be free and go play hockey': NHL prospect Luke Prokop tells his coming out story
Nashville Predators prospect Luke Prokop [he/him], 19, came out publicly as gay in 2021 and is the only active out player signed to an NHL contract. The Canadian defenseman, who was selected by the Predators in the 2020 NHL entry draft, is currently on the roster with the Calgary Hitmen in the Western Hockey League.
'When you're ready, you will not be alone': Brazil volleyballer Douglas Souza tells his coming out story
Brazil volleyball star Douglas Souza [he/him], 26, is an Olympic champion, winning men's volleyball gold at his home Games at Rio 2016. His Brazil team came fourth in Tokyo. He is currently the most followed volleyballer on Instagram, and came out publicly as gay in 2020.
Read Douglas Souza's interview in Portuguese HERE
'Seba, you look so happy': Argentine basketballer Sebastian Vega tells his coming out story
Professional basketballer Sebastian Vega [he/him], 33, came out publicly as gay in March 2020, and says he did it to combat what he calls the macho stigma in the sport. He plays in Argentina's top league, for Gimnasia de Comodoro.
Read Sebastian Vega's interview in Spanish HERE
Reporting by: Lucas Benicio, Lucie Bertoldo, Kyle Bonagura, Bethan Clargo, Pablo Cormick, Lindsay du Plessis, Sjors Grol, Emily Kaplan, Alex Kirkland, Niamh Lewis, Kathleen McNamee, Susan Ninan, Jean Santos, Leonard Solms, Josh Weinfuss