-   Blast from the Past (
-   -   The history of homosexuality in tennis (

Rollo Oct 15th, 2002 01:10 AM

The history of homosexuality in tennis
I found this piece on the web and thought-why not.
Suzanne Lenglen? Are the top doubles team Brough-duPont or Fry-Hart? What about Hard and Bueno? I might deserve a right good roasting for being as curious as a cat, but I'll chance it if someone can come up with more! BTW, a couple of the dates seemed wrong to me. I put that in ** symbols. The accuracy (or lack of) I leave for others to decide for themselves.

Taken from:


Any mention of lesbianism in tennis must first pay homage to a gay man. The most notable homosexual in the tennis world for most of the Twentieth Century was a William Tatem Tilden III. “Big Bill”, as he was called, was not even on nodding terms with the closet, traveling with an entourage that was made up mostly of handsome young men. As the premier player of the era (and arguably of any era), no one saw fit to question the blatant and in-your-face activities of a man who would today be characterized as a flaming queen. It was only when he was well past middle age, and no longer the stellar attraction he once that society tired of looking the other way. He was sent to prison at over 60 years of age for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor”, though it was a minimal sentence served as a librarian in a minimum security facility. According to Alice Marble, a fellow touring pro, Tilden was “tennis's sacrifice to the world's homophobia”.

One of the earliest female tennis champions, Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen, was as flamboyant as she was skilled. No accusations of lesbianism were ever levelled directly at her, perhaps mainly due to her very public affaires with various prominent Europeans. The fact that none of those affaires lasted more than a few weeks, and for most of her relatively short career Suzanne's tennis entourage was almost entirely composed of homosexuals, was never given any play in the media. The press had their Out whipping boy in Bill Tilden, and, after all, France considered La Belle Suzanne a national treasure.

A decade later, another female tennis champion, Alice Marble, was more discrete. Though her longtime coach, Eleano“Teach” Tennant, was a known homosexual, the fact that Tennant was one of the top coaches in the game was apparently enough to stave off assumptions of a more-than-tennis association. Marble, a bisexual, had four great loves in her life: two men, and two women. Fortunately for her reputation, it was the two male relationships (the second, a brief marriage) that the public knew about. Alice was the quintessential female “jock” in appearance and demeanor: she was extremely athletic, and played her tennis matches wearing shorts (the first high-ranking woman pro to do so by more than a quarter-century) and a baseball-style cap. In her autobiography, dictated just two years before her death at 93, Marble went on record about homosexuality in her sport. She said that there were always lesbian affairs on the tour, but “like the movie community, the players protected their own. A Billie Jean King or Martina Navratilova scandal in the thirties or forties would have been devastating to the sport.”

“One of the top women's doubles teams were partners off the court, too. We all knew about it, although when asked,I always said, 'I wasn't under the bed.' I envied the lovers'closeness, the looks exchanged, the casual touching of shoulders, the brief clasp of hands before a match.”

In another chapter of her autobiography, Marble mentions that the marriage between fellow player Margaret Osborne and one of the world's richest men, Will I. duPont (Alice had introduced them a decade before) ended when Margaret divorced duPont to live with her doubles partner, Margaret Varner Bloss. Divorced not just a duPont, but the duPont.

Billie Jean King was already regarded as one of the seminal figures in the history of tennis, as well as the godmother of the women's modern professional game, when she was outed in 1978(*this date is wrong . The King-Navratilova stories broke at about the same time) in a lurid palimony suit brought by her former lover and private secretary, Marilyn Barnett. At first King denied any relationship beyond professional, then recanted only to the extent of admitting that the relationship had existed - but had been “a terrible mistake.” Stung by a wave of bitter backlash from the gay community over her hypocrisy, King attempted to “rehabilitate” herself by ceasing to make any sort of protest of heterosexuality (or even bisexuality) when she was referred to as lesbian. She never actually came out and admitted it, but very publicly stopped trying to hide it.

In 1983(*actually this was 1981) another bombshell rocked the tennis world. Martina Navratilova, the #1 female player in the world and a newly-naturalized American citizen, was “outed” in the magazine Sports Illustrated by a writer in whom she had confided her “secret” on the basis that it be strictly off the record. By that point it was an ill-concealed “secret” to all but a handful of tennis fans, but Navratilova's reaction following the disclosure could not have been more different from Billie Jean King's. She immediately called a press conference to confirm the story, while carefully documenting the dishonesty of the reporter who had broken his promise of confidentiality. It was a master stroke, as she immediately became the injured party, and garnered much sympathy in the heterosexual press. Once Out, Martina became a staunch advocate of gay rights, becoming a spokesperson for the Gay Games and helping to lead the fight to repeal Colorado's Proposition 2 (she is an Aspen resident). At the same time, she publicly admitted that her being Out had probably cost her many millions in lost endorsement monies.

Though there have been claims that lesbianism is rife on the women's professional tennis tour, no other player has Come Out during the ensuing 15-plus years. [Author's Note: This paper was written before the arrival of Amelie Mauresmo onto the international tennis scene.]

Indexed in the Thread Finder at

disposablehero Oct 15th, 2002 01:22 AM

Well, its interestin. I do seem to recall BJK being Out a little sooner than Martina, though. Some of it seems a little speculative to me, particularly because they keep on dropping big names I haven't heard this about before. Yet no mention of Helen Jacobs.

Rollo Oct 15th, 2002 01:49 AM

I agree DH. I can vouch for the quotes from Alice's book, but aside from that it's more speculation than otherwise.

Mark43 Oct 15th, 2002 03:15 AM

Yeah Rollo it was May 1981 (the BJK/Marilyn Barnett 'scandale'). I had just graduated from 8th grade a month later and, as my grad present, saw BJK play the newly resurrected World Team Tennis in Oakland. I've told the story before (Billie Jean screamed at lil' ol me in the Oakland Colusiuem..blah blah) so the date is engraved in my mind. Martina became a citizen later that summer...and never looked less like a dyke than in that semifinal match with Chris Evert at the '81 US Open. Slim and trim, her hair dyed a burnished auburn red and dainty ribbons in her hair. She almost out Chris Everted...Chris Evert!

I better quit blabbing.
Great read, by the way. Where do you come up with these articles!!!

Rboi Oct 15th, 2002 08:44 AM

Hmmmm....this topic reminded me of something I read in "A Long Way Baby" where Ms Lichtenstein writes....

"Lesbianism thus remained in the closet as far as its being a fit subject for serious adult conversation was concerned. That did not stop the players from relating juicy tales about gay (and straight) seducers. One player told me that a famous star of the 1950's had a penchant for "corrupting" young girls. When she was eight, she was invited up to the star's hotel room. When she got there, the star emerged naked from the shower. 'She didn't do anything' the player added, 'but when I told my mother she warned me to stay away from her'.

eeeek! what a story (if it's true...)

irma Oct 15th, 2002 10:26 AM

who was the player who tried to catch infant Steffi?
all we know is that she married later on.
Steffi should not tell stories and then not say who we are talking about! :o

Rollo Oct 15th, 2002 12:40 PM

Irma, please give more details, I never heard about this. What was Steffi's story?

Mark-Thanks for confirming the year. Poor little oh you getting screamed at in the Oakland Coliesium by BJK!:eek: Did she still sign autographs? I totally agree about Martina's look. I'm saving money to get that US Open semi on tape.

"A Long Way Baby" is one of my favorite reads. It's also the best first-hand account I've read of King's secretary Marilyn Barnett. Grace all but makes public their relationship in the book when she talks about how King shared a room with Marilyn even when husband Larry was in town. Meanwhile Larry was having his own fling with another Slims player. named Janet Young. I wonder what the matches were like between Mrs. King and Larry's girlfriend.....

irma Oct 15th, 2002 01:04 PM

Steffi said in an interview that a famous female player tried to make avances on her when she(steffi) was very young. she also said that the player later married. I have my suspicious ideas, but that's speculation. For sure it's not Nav(since she didn't marry)

Caoimhe Oct 15th, 2002 02:25 PM

Does Amelie have a gf at the min?
I heard she was single again. Anyone know?

Sam L Oct 16th, 2002 01:25 PM

Was Suzanne Lenglen really a lesbian?

ColinB Oct 22nd, 2002 09:22 AM

Wow - I;m surprised about the Steffi incident and curious to who it could be...

Known lesbian's on the Tour in the early 80's that i know of were Martina, Billie-Jean, Hana, Wendy Turnbull, Rosie Casals, Virginia Wade - but of that bunch I only know of Hana who got married...

Did Wendy Turnbull ever get married???

Well Shriver is married now!!! Hint Hint

irma Oct 22nd, 2002 09:45 AM

and she wants to be steffi's friend very bad;)

Rollo Oct 22nd, 2002 05:49 PM

I've read nothing to indicate that Suzanne was gay. The article states she was surrounded by a group of homosexuals, but perhaps that was part of Papa Lenglen's ploy of having her devote all her life to tennis. It's the first I heard of it at any rate Sam.

What amazes me is that ANYONE, male, female or barely alive, could find a young Steffi Graf attractive enough to make a pass at. In her early days her nose was longer than a ski slop, she had that awful rag-top hair, not to mention skin problems. OK now Irma-don't roast ne too bad!:fiery:

P.S. IMO Graf later became a sexy lady, my comments were based on Steffi of 1985-88.

PamShriver Oct 22nd, 2002 08:28 PM

HEY NOW!!! I never hit on a young Steffi Graf or any other young player on tour!!! I LOVE DUDES!!!

I, occasionally, enjoyed brushing Carling Bassett's long golden locks and may or may not have once offered to help Andrea Temesvari with her bikini was, but it was all strictly kosher, any DUDE LOVIN HETEROSEXUAL GAL would've done the same....right?

Rollo Oct 22nd, 2002 10:31 PM

Did Andrea take you up on your bikini offer Pam?
The blast wants to know if she was a "natural" blonde.

All times are GMT. The time now is 10:56 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.8
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.
vBulletin Security provided by vBSecurity v2.2.2 (Pro) - vBulletin Mods & Addons Copyright © 2019 DragonByte Technologies Ltd.
User Alert System provided by Advanced User Tagging (Pro) - vBulletin Mods & Addons Copyright © 2019 DragonByte Technologies Ltd.

For the best viewing experience please update your browser to Google Chrome