In the Wide World of Sports, visibility matters. And this year’s nominees for LGBTQ Nation’s Sports Hero pushed the limits of representation and visibility in their respective arenas while maintaining
The nominees are Maybelle Blair, the 95-year-old baseball player who was an inspiration for A League of Their Own who came out this year; Solomon Bates, the second minor league baseball player to come out and was signed by the Sioux City Explorers; Lia Thomas, who came out and stood up to her Republican lawmaker dad; Megan Rapinoe, who educates her followers about wildlife and whose emu stole the show; his followers on TikTok and Instagram about life as a trans dad and promoted protests against anti-trans laws; and Justine Lindsay, who uses her large platform on to show what it’s like to be Black, queer, and Muslim.
The nominees for LGBTQ Nation’s Sports Hero of the Year 2022 confirm that what counts, win or lose, is how you play the game. Vote now for LGBTQ Nation’s 2022 Sports Hero.
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In June, Maybelle Blair, who inspired the character played by Madonna in Penny Marshall’s 1992 comedy A League of Their Own, came out as gay.
The occasion was the premiere of a new Amazon series based on the film. Blair turned 95 in January.
“I hid for 75, 85 years, and this is actually basically the first time I’ve ever come out,” she said.
The former All-American Girls Professional Baseball League player batted and threw right handed. She pitched professionally for the Peoria Redwings in 1948, followed by softball stints with the Chicago Cardinals and the Jax Girls in New Orleans.
“All the Way Mae” went on to help found the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Players Association in 1982, serving on the Board of Directors, and as Fundraising chair. She was instrumental in establishing the Women in Baseball wing at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, depicted in the final reel of Marshall’s 1992 movie.
When Solomon Bates was cut by the Giants in August, he shared the bad news on Instagram and got personal.
“I thank the Giants for giving me the opportunity to be myself and go out there and play the game that I love the most,” Bates wrote. “I’m still in shock on what just happened. But I’m not giving up on what I want to do.”
“Being gay in this sport you don’t know what comes at you!”
It was a pitcher’s best friend: two outs in one play.
Bates became baseball’s second active player to come out publicly, after Milwaukee Brewers’ farmhand David Denson in 2015.
Bates didn’t have to wait long for a new slot. Two days after the cut, he was signed by the Sioux City Explorers in the American Association of Professional Baseball league. He was welcomed with open arms.
It’s good to be a swimmer when you’re at the center of a storm.
In March, 22 year-old Lia Thomas, swimming for the University of Pennsylvania, became the first openly transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship in any sport, placing first in the women’s 500-yard freestyle event at National Swimming and Diving Championships in Atlanta.
The win brought on a hurricane of controversy.
Protesters gathered outside the venue with signs reading “Save Women’s Sports” and “Girls’ Sports for Girls Only.” She was the focus of attacks from right-wing media. Local news outlets used Thomas’ victory to bash trans women in sports, and anti-LGBTQ activists accused Thomas of transitioning just for the wins. She even earned the ire of Donald Trump.
But Thomas swam through it all, and she did it with dignity when others would have crumbled.
Her school nominated her for NCAA Athlete of the Year, which she ultimately didn’t win.
“Trans people don’t transition for athletics,” Thomas said months after winning the championship. “We transition to be happy and authentic and our true selves.”
In a major win for gender equity in sports, the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) agreed in May to pay players on its men’s and women’s teams equally.
You can thank Megan Rapinoe.
The policy change came after Rapinoe and 27 of her teammates filed an EEOC complaint for equal pay in 2016, and then a lawsuit in 2019 accusing the USSF of gender discrimination.
Soccer got the message and the USSF reached an agreement to make pay more equitable between their women’s and men’s teams.
Rapinoe was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Biden in July for that work, and more. “Megan is a champion for an essential American truth,” Biden said in remarks. “That everyone — everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.”
In March, dancer Justine Lindsay blitzed a sports world barrier, becoming the NFL’s first openly transgender cheerleader on the gridiron.
“Cats Out the Bag you are looking at the newest member of the Carolina Panthers TopCats,” the 29-year-old wrote in an Insta post celebrating her spot on the team’s cheerleading squad, and coming out as trans. “This is a moment I will never forget and I cannot wait to show you all what this girl has to bring.”
Lindsay is a cheerleading vet, with half-time duties at Johnson C. Smith University, where she danced with the Golden Bullettes, and a stint with St. Augustine University’s marching band.
TopCats coach Chandalae Lanouette said it’s the dancer’s talent that landed her on the squad. “My goal is to create a team of individuals that are absolute fire on the field but are incredible human beings in the locker room, good friends, good people, and at the end of the day, you have to walk through the door first to get to that spot.”