Sue Bird realized she was gay while at the University of Connecticut, but she waited until her 15th year in the WNBA to announce it publicly. In a lengthy profile published Thursday by ESPN, Bird came out and said that she was in a relationship with soccer star Megan Rapinoe.
“I’m gay. Megan’s my girlfriend. … These aren’t secrets to people who know me,” Bird told ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel. “I don’t feel like I’ve not lived my life. I think people have this assumption that if you’re not talking about it, you must be hiding it, like it’s this secret. That was never the case for me.”
As for the timing of her revelation, Bird said, “It’s happening when it’s happening because that’s what feels right. So even though I understand there are people who think I should have done it sooner, it wasn’t right for me at the time. I have to be true to that. It’s my journey.”
A two-time national champion at U-Conn., Bird was made the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 WNBA draft by the Seattle Storm, with whom she has spent her entire career, winning two league titles and becoming a 10-time all-star. Rapinoe, a World Cup and Olympic gold medal winner with the U.S. women’s national team, has played for the NWSL’s Seattle Reign since 2013, and she told ESPN that they “just sort of clicked” last fall.
Rapinoe came out in 2012, and she has been an advocate for LGBTQ issues. Bird, though, said that her decision had “nothing to do with Megan,” but was “something I’ve been on the verge of doing for a long time.”
Bird told Voepel that she nearly came out twice last year, before and during the Rio Olympics, where she won her fourth straight gold medal with Team USA. For a magazine’s questionnaire ahead of the Games titled “25 things you don’t know about Olympians,” she said, “I literally had at No. 25: ‘I’m gay.’ And then I just didn’t do it. I chickened out.”
She subsequently was listening to a reporter talk with U.S. teammate Elena Delle Donne about how the basketball star had recently come out, and Bird was struck by how there was “no big deal” about that conversation. Bird said she almost chimed in that she, too, is gay, but instead, it was “another moment it was right there, but I didn’t say anything.”
“Megan feels really passionately about things,” Bird said. “I just never felt that calling, if that’s the right word. I was living my life, just not necessarily leading the charge. But I never felt that made me any less real.”
Bird is happy that the WNBA has become more LGBTQ-friendly, and she said, “The players have influenced that a ton, especially the younger ones. Where the league is now is appropriate, I think, in terms of support.”