By Martin Rogers (for Yahoo! US sports)
Olympics soccer star Megan Rapinoe hopes her decision to state publicly that she is homosexual will pave the way for more gay athletes to make their sexuality known.
Rapinoe, one of the most recognizable and popular players on the United States women's team, came out this week in an interview with Out.com and revealed that she has dated Australian soccer player Sarah Walsh for more than a year.
"I feel like sports in general are still homophobic, in the sense that not a lot of people are out," Rapinoe said. "I feel like everyone is really craving people to come out. People want — they need — to see that there are people like me playing soccer for the good old U.S. of A."
Megan Rapinoe is dating Australia's Sarah Walsh. (Yahoo! Sports)
Rapinoe was outstanding during the USA's run to the final of the Women's World Cup last year, providing a brilliant cross for Abby Wambach's dramatic last equalizer in the team's heart-stopping quarterfinal victory over Brazil.
She is expected to again play a major role as the side seeks to retain the Olympic crown it won with an extra-time victory, also against Brazil, in Beijing four years ago.
As might have been expected, Rapinoe's comments have attracted criticism from some. However, her decision — and her call for more gay athletes to come out — must be applauded.
Lamentably, homophobia has long been prevalent in soccer, and positive role models such as Rapinoe proudly opening up can only be a plus.
Even since joining the national team, Rapinoe has not kept her sexuality, or more recently her relationship with Walsh, a secret. She said the only reason the news did not enter the wider public domain until now, despite being known in soccer circles, was that she had never been asked.
"I think [people] were trying to be respectful and that it's my job to say 'I'm gay" she said. "Which I am. For the record: I am gay."
Rapinoe is currently a member of the Seattle Sounders club team following the dismantling of Women's Professional Soccer following three seasons of mixed success and dwindling attendances. She played alongside Walsh in a two-game stint for Australian side Sydney FC last October.
However, the pair will not get the chance to go head to head in London, after Australia fell to New Zealand in pre-Games qualifying.