Basketball star Elena Delle Donne comes out as gay with little fanfare

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Both a WNBA and Olympic star, Delle Donne has been a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. (Getty)
Both a WNBA and Olympic star, Delle Donne has been a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. (Getty)

Women’s basketball star Elena Delle Donne, a key member of Team USA in Rio de Janeiro and the WNBA’s reigning MVP as a member of the Chicago Sky, has come out as gay via a new article in Vogue. The news is perhaps most interesting not for its content, but the way in which it was delivered. Delle Donne’s sexual orientation is revealed with no special attention in the piece. In fact, Delle Donne appears to have been surprised by the timing of its publication.

Phil Thompson of the Chicago Tribune was the first to relay the report. The Vogue article is not yet available online, but OutSports.com has the relevant passage:

“Elena divides her time between traveling with her team, the Chicago Sky, and her family’s home in the rolling green landscape of Wilmington, Delaware. She and her fiancee, Amanda Clifton, keep apartments in both Chicago and Wilmington.”

Although Delle Donne does not explicitly state that she’s gay, the revelation of her engagement serves as an announcement nonetheless.

[Related: Openly LGBT Olympians who will be in the 2016 Rio Games]

Delle Donne answered questions about the article at a USA Basketball press conference on Wednesday night in Rio. She made it clear that including her fiancee in the Vogue story was their choice. From Thompson’s article:

“I decided I’m not at all going to hide anything,” Delle Donne said. “The biggest thing is respecting Amanda’s privacy as well. She’s not on the stage, she doesn’t need to be interviewed and I don’t want her to have to feel that way.

“As the future keeps moving on, I don’t plan on having our relationship out in the public and all this media on it, but obviously there’s excitement right now because people see it for the first time.” […]

“It was just one of those articles where they came into my home, spent a couple days with me, and Amanda is a huge part of my life,” Delle Donne said. “So to leave her out wouldn’t have made any sense. It’s not a coming out article or anything. I’ve been with her for a very long time now and people who are close to me know that and that’s that.”

Thompson notes that Delle Donne has previously chosen not to answer questions about her personal life and sexual orientation, but it is readily apparent that she and Clifton have been more open about their relationship in recent months. Both Delle Donne and Clifton regularly post photos of each other (and their very good dogs) on social media and do not try especially hard to hide a close relationship. As Delle Donne says, opening up about her personal life was a natural decision given the circumstances. Like many athletes, she chose to bring her partner into the story because not doing so would have rejected the entire purpose of the article.

It’s safe to say that the decision was made easier because Delle Donne plays women’s basketball, a sport that has historically been much more open to LGBTQ fans and causes than other leagues. When the NBA and WNBA became the first major American sports leagues to march in the New York City Pride parade in June, the most surprising aspect of the news was that the latter had not done it before. Delle Donne is far from the first women’s basketball superstar to come out. In fact, Brittney Griner, the only player picked before her in the 2013 draft, did so shortly before her selection.

[Related: USA Basketball’s airplane karaoke session is as awesome as it sounds]

What makes Delle Donne different is that she hews to the establishment’s idea of what a star woman athlete should like — classically feminine and media-friendly enough to get prime placement alongside men’s basketball stars in Nike ad campaigns. (It obviously doesn’t hurt her that she’s blonde and white, either.) If nothing else, Delle Donne can show that there is no set template for a professional athlete, gay or otherwise. As one of her sport’s most visible stars, she can lead the fight for acceptance by example.

What’s perhaps most heartening about this news, though, is that it could be announced with little fanfare or accompanying outcry. This is who Delle Donne is, and it appears that most observers have accepted it happily.

If Delle Donne hopes to move on from this announcement soon, she should be able to speed up that process with her play on the court. Few athletes of either gender have the 6-foot-5 superstar’s talent of size, skill, and determination. Wednesday’s story is terrific for both Delle Donne and the sports world as a whole, but we should watch her play for Team USA for the same reasons we would have on Tuesday.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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