Watch: These 3 Pro Sports Figures Agree — Coming Out Made Them Happier

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Saturday February 11, 2023
Originally published on February 3, 2023

Zander Murray
Zander Murray  (Source:BBC)

In the past, gay athletes, and other LGBTQ+ people in sports, stayed deep in the closet out of fear. That's starting to change — and, these three pro sports figures, profiled by ESPN, say coming out made things better.

Read their stories, and watch their video messages below.

For Scottish soccer champ Zander Murray, fear not only kept him locked in the closet, but also meant holding back when he could have been advancing his career.

Telling ESPN that he'd "had opportunities to play higher" — meaning higher in the world of Scottish soccer — Murray admitted to holding himself back: "I thought, 'You'll be in the limelight a lot more, more people watching, what if people see you in the street with your partner? What if they see your friends? How are they going to react?'"

Despite that self-sabotage, the situation eventually came to pass anyway. The ESPN profile related how Zander attended his first Gay Pride at the age of 30 and when a friend took a photo of him, the image showed how he "visibly loved" being in the company of so many out, proud, liberated LGBTQ+ people.

Murray fretted about the photo being posted online and outing him — the very thing he'd feared a higher professional profile might lead to. Then, he said, "Something happened, something just hit me, and I went, 'What am I doing?'" He realized, he said, "I could die tomorrow, and I've literally just lived a lie."

Murray chose to tell the truth by embracing authenticity — and that step out of the closet door was, he said, "the best thing" he's done.

Setting lies aside — to himself and others — was something that also motivated British Olympic swimmer Daniel Jervis, who found himself, at the age of 23, trapped with his own thoughts during the COVID lockdowns. "I was really depressed," he recounted, describing how he flip-flopped in his own mind about being gay. He finally had to face the truth: "I am, and I need to stop lying to myself."

Depression weighed heavily on Scottish referee Lloyd Wilson, who described how "absolutely draining" life in the closet was. The cost was a physical, as well as emotional toll: "I used to feel hungover all the time," he said.

There were even moments when he considered suicide: "At times life was too difficult and sometimes the prospect of not being here was easier to think about."

Life can feel tough for anyone, and just about everyone feels overwhelmed or unhappy at times. But once he came out, the additional burden that inauthenticity had placed on him evaporated — and he wasn't the only one to notice.

"It was utterly awful, I was narky, I was snappy at people," Wilson recalled of his pre-authentic life. "Now lots of people message me and say, 'You look so happy', and I am, I'm the happiest I've ever been."

The idea that they can now help others as out, proud members of the professional sports world is another point of happiness and pride.

"Honestly, people of all ages have messaged me saying, 'Thank you so much, you've just made it so much easier for me to tell my family,' or ask for advice before they tell their family," Murray said. "It's unbelievable."

Jervis remarked that after he came out, he saw social media comments that questioned his decision to do so. "I did see some people saying, 'Why is he making a big deal out of it?'" the swimming champ said; but once he goes into the private messages he gets from people grateful for the visibility and representation he provides, the answer to that question is clear to him: "That's why. That's why I wanted to be so out there with it."

The long and short of it: These pro athletes were champions of sport even inside the closet; now, freed of its stifling confines, they are champions in life, as well.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.