When Sky center Stefanie Dolson came out as gay in an ESPN The Magazine article in 2016, she was prepared for any backlash she might face.
“There’s always going to be those trolls who are going to say, ‘All female basketball players are lesbians,’ or whatever,” Dolson told the Sun-Times in a phone interview.
Instead, she was showered with positivity.
“Everyone’s been really warm,” she said. “It was all pretty positive feedback, and I appreciate that.”
In the weeks after her story was published, Dolson’s phone blew up with notifications from people voicing their support. She received countless messages on Instagram from fans who told her how much her story helped and inspired them.
Dolson, who considers herself bisexual, also said coming out allowed her to be true to herself.
“I’ve always been a pretty open person,” said Dolson, who realized she was attracted to women during her rookie season in the WNBA in 2014. “And [I] really love love.”
Dolson wants to help inspire a new generation and empower young women to be their “authentic” selves. That’s part of the reason she feels compelled to share her coming-out story and perspective on what it’s like to be a gay athlete.
“There are a lot of girls who struggle being who they are,” Dolson wrote for ESPN in 2016. “We need people who are out so that those girls know it’s OK to be themselves, regardless of stereotypes. By being open, I give them someone to look up to, and however they identify, I can inspire them to support equality and LGBT issues.”
Dolson has continued to be a role model for young women. She spoke on an LGBTQ panel at the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Convention on Friday in Tampa, Florida. The main topic was about how coaches can do a better job creating a more inclusive game.
“Everyone has a different story,” Dolson said. “Some are positive, some are negative. Everyone kind of goes over those humps.”
Fortunately for Dolson, she said she didn’t have a “difficult journey” when it came to realizing her sexuality. Her parents didn’t pass judgment but rather welcomed her with open arms.
“My parents love me no matter what, they were super cool about it,” she said. “And I’m just happy that I can put pictures up [with my girlfriend] and all this stuff without getting backlash.”
The WNBA has made the most strides in professional sports to create an inclusive environment. In 2016, it became the first professional sports league to walk in the New York City Pride Parade, and it has continued the tradition. The WNBA also celebrates “Pride Month” in June with initiatives that empower teams, players and fans to share their voices and create a more inclusive environment for their communities.
“It’s important we use our platform for good,” Dolson said. “And to have these little girls look up to us and reach out on Instagram or whatever it is, take pictures after the games, it’s inspiring and it’s humbling. To have these little girls say we did that for them or done something to help them, it’s really cool.”
Dolson believes society has become more tolerant of the LGBTQ community. But she also said there’s a lot more work to be done.
“There’s always going to be people who say [negative things], but society has come a very long way,” Dolson said. “People have been more supportive of being their authentic self and I think it’s important to show girls that they can grow up like that. . . . [It’s] refreshing that society has come a long way, but at the same time, we still have a long way to go.”