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May 7, 2014

Athletes coming out

New sports playbook: How to come out as gay

NEW YORK (AP) — A new type of playbook is fast evolving in the world of sports: An informal, commonsense protocol for how prominent gay and lesbian athletes can come out with maximum acclaim and minimum turmoil.

Key decisions include how to reveal one's story, whom to tell it to and — crucially — when to tell it.

"The earlier in the offseason, the better," said Cyd Zeigler, a co-founder of the website Outsports, the platform of choice for many athletes to share their coming-out story.

"Minimizing the distraction to your teammates is super important," Zeigler said. "I recommend to everyone, 'Don't do it in the middle in the season.'"

Jason Collins used an April 2013 column in Sports Illustrated to become the first openly gay player in the NBA. He's now a reserve with the Brooklyn Nets.

In February, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam came out via coordinated coverage by ESPN, The New York Times and Outsports. Sam is projected as a middle-round prospect in the NFL draft this week, which would put him on track to be the league's first openly gay player.

On April 9, University of Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon became the first openly gay player in Division I men's basketball, making the announcement on ESPN and Outsports two days after the NCAA championship game.

The logistics of Sam coming out were coordinated by Howard Bragman, a public relations expert who is vice chairman of Reputation.com, which helps clients manage their online images.

Bragman has been ushering celebrities out of the closet since 1991, when he helped actor Dick Sargent of the TV series "Bewitched." The first gay athlete he worked with was Esera Tuaolo, who came out in 2002 after nine years as a defensive tackle in the NFL. Other clients included golfer Rosie Jones in 2004 and pro basketball star Sheryl Swoopes in 2005.

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