Less than a month away from the London Games, U.S. women's soccer standout Megan Rapinoe says publicly for the first time that she is gay.
The timing is important, because Rapinoe, who turns 27 on Thursday, wants her story to empower others in the LGBT community.
While she's long been openly gay to her family and teammates, Rapinoe addressed her sexuality definitively in an interview with Out Magazine:
"For the record: I am gay," she said.
She explained her reasons for coming out in a Monday evening phone interview with USA TODAY Sports.
"To be honest I've been thinking about it for a while, trying to find a time that works, now leading up to the Olympics, people want to get personal stories," she says. "Our team in general is in a position where people look up to us and kids look up to us. I embrace that and I think I have a huge LGBT following. I think it's pretty cool, the opportunity that I have, especially in sports. There's really not that many out athletes. It's important to be out and to live my life that way."
"It's about standing up and being counted and saying you're proud of who you are."
The reception so far?
"It's been good," she says. "It's all been extremely positive, which makes me really happy."
Rapinoe is dating an Australian soccer player and brought her home to visit family in Northern California last Winter. Rapinoe says she knew she was gay by her first year of college and says coming out to her family was followed by an adjustment period.
"I just kind of sat them down and told them," she says. "My mom, whether it's right or wrong, she had dreams for me to have a certain life. It takes time to get used to that. But they've been really supportive and they love me for exactly who I am."
She says the atmosphere for out athletes on women's teams is far different than on men's teams. She thinks it's okay for her teammates to date, if all involved are mature enough.
"I think it's different for everybody. You never want to create any kind of drama," she says. "Sometimes when you date people you end up breaking up and if teammates are mature enough to deal with that, then it's okay. I never want to bring any undue drama to the team."
Rapinoe laments the difficulty for closeted male athletes. She believes the first active players to come out in a high-profile men's team sport will usher change.
"The climate is much different for men," she says. "That stigma is only going to be broken when people come out and see that there is a positive response. That doesn't mean there will be no negative response, but if people can have the courage to be one of the first, which is very hard, those barriers can be broken down very quickly."
By Robert Klemko