Tag Archives: Renée Richards

LGBT History Month 2013: Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers

5 Jun

CollinsRogersWhat a difference a year makes! Last summer there were no out gay men in professional team sports. Suddenly there are two, each of whom has made a significant difference in the national conversation. Professional athletics, especially male teams, is one of the last closets to be pried open.

Former Baltimore Raven and outspoken LGBT ally Brendon Ayanbadejo indicated that at least four gay NFL players were considering coming out as a group and had talked to him about strategy. Before that could happen, NBA star Jason Collins and soccer player Robbie Rogers boldly burst the doors open.

Collins became the first non-retired, publicly out man on a professional team just a month ago. Coming out in a long interview in Sports Illustrated, he spoke eloquently about the crippling power of the closet and the desire to be accepted as a complete human being. Reactions were all over the map, but generally positive. With a couple of notable exceptions, other NBA players have been very supportive, setting the stage for more out basketball players in the near future.

Barely a week ago, Robbie Rogers broke two barriers. Signing with the LA Galaxy, he became the first out major league soccer player. The very next day, he joined his team on the field, becoming the first publicly out gay man to play a team sport. As with Collins, other than some grumbling from the usual “Family Values” groups, Rogers has seen nothing but support.

The courage of these two men does nothing to diminish the many out athletes that came before them. Tennis stars Renée Richards and Martina Navratilova were early out players. Baseball’s Glenn Burke was out to his team while still playing — to the detriment of his career. David Kopay, Billy Bean, and John Amaechi all came out not long after retiring from football, baseball, and basketball respectively. Every out voice counts!

The macho image of male team sports has contributed to the long-standing homophobia in that arena. Collins and Rogers, building on the brave men and women who preceded them, have helped change that dynamic. Let’s hope that soon there will be too many out players to list casually. Until then, every move forward must be celebrated.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 27, Renée Richards

27 Jun

Today we honor and celebrate a pioneer in transgender rights and LGBT athletics. Renée Richards was born Richard Raskind in New York in 1934. She grew up, in her own words “a nice Jewish boy.” Raskind excelled at tennis from early on, and was ranked among the top-10 Eastern and national juniors in the late 1940s and early 1950s, serving as captain of the high school team and again for the team at Yale. After Yale, Raskind went to medical school at the University of Rochester. After a short stint in the Navy, the doctor established a career as an eye surgeon while still pursuing tennis on the side.

Raskind realized that her gender identity did not match the male gender assigned to her at birth and began to explore her options in the mid-60s. She traveled Europe dressed as a woman and consulted a physician about reassignment surgery. She did not transition at that time, however, and returned to the U.S. where she married and had a son. She then decided to transition and did so in 1975.

Richards wanted to continue to play tennis but was met with resistance. The U.S. Tennis Association barred her from the U.S. Open in 1976, requiring her to take a chromosome test. Unwilling to accept this discrimination, she sued the USTA. In 1977, the New York Supreme Court handed her a win. She played women’s tennis professionally until 1981. She was ranked as high as 20th overall (in February 1979), and her highest ranking at the end of a year was 22nd (in 1977). Her greatest successes on court were reaching the doubles final at the U.S. Open in 1977 with Betty Ann Stuart — the pair lost a close match to Martina Navratilova and Betty Stöve — and winning the 35-and-over women’s singles. She later coached Navratilova to two Wimbledon wins and was inducted into the USTA Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000.

Her courage and drive have been the subject of two films. Second Serve, a made-for-television film from 1986 starred Vanessa Redgrave who received two award nominations for the role. The film was based on her autobiography. ESPN made the documentary Renée in 2011. No Way Renée: The Second Half of My Notorious Life, was her second book, published in 2007.

Renée Richards is a true pioneer. There are very few out athletes, and fewer still who maintain professional success while out. Like her contemporary, baseball’s Glenn Burke, Richards proved that despite the discrimination it is possible to succeed. She remains perhaps the most successful active, professional, out athlete.

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