Martina Navratilova: Money lost by coming out was in the ‘millions’

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

In most of the world currently, one being openly gay is not the biggest issue. Of course, one’s sexuality should not be a concern in the general public anyway; people have their own lives to worry about. But in 1981 when WTA great Martina Navratilova was only 24 years old and told a reporter that she was in a relationship with another woman, advertisers cared a lot more.

Navratilova came out as gay shortly after a lawsuit in Los Angeles had outed Billie Jean King. While Navratilova was not part of the suit, she was asked by a reporter of the New York Daily News about the allegations against King. (The lawsuit had been brought by a former girlfriend of King’s, Marilyn Barnett, who was suing King for financial support.)

Navratilova was just a few months away from becoming a naturalized American citizen and she asked the reporter not to print the fact that she had told the reporter that she was in a relationship with another woman. The New York Daily News did wait to report on the news, but on July 30, 1981, the Daily News did run the news that Navratilova was gay. This was a few days after she had received her citizenship.

Martina Navratilova says she lost millions in endorsements

Navratilova’s concern at the time is that any endorsements she might get in the future, and her then-current Avon sponsorship, would be wiped away by her coming out as gay. While we currently live in a world where one can feel a bit safer about being open with their sexuality, Navratilova’s story shows that it wasn’t that long ago that we were even more close-minded. During a recent interview with Kara Swisher, the tennis great said she lost millions of dollars by coming out.

Navratilova did not name the names of companies she felt pulled their potential endorsements, but she said, “Nobody said no, but nobody said yes either. I can’t say how much money I lost by being out, but it’s in millions, there’s no doubt about that.”

Fortunately, she did not let losing all that money affect her on the court. Nor has she let that affect her views post-tennis, such as her strong stance against trans-women taking part in female sports. Her friend Chris Evert agrees with Navratilova on that view while Billie Jean King disagrees, but the two remain friendly. Mutual respect, even with differing views, is how the world should truly work.

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