The barriers LGBT athletes face in professional sports are beginning to crack as historic percentages of Americans change their attitudes. It may be surprising that tennis is a notoriously harsh world for gay men especially.
In 2013 Martina Navratilova spoke out about the issue in an interview with The Daily Mail, saying “It is more difficult in team sports as you may not get to play. But that does not explain why there are no gay male tennis players at all. We know they are there, but they are so far in the closet I don't know who they are.”
At that time the only out male professional tennis player was Francisco Rodriguez of Paraguay, who never ranked higher than 373 in the world. Rodriguez came out only in retirement, claiming that an out male tennis pro would be an “outcast” in the tour.
The United States Tennis Association’s March announcement that Gold Badge Chief Umpire Bruce Littrell, an openly gay man originally from Brentwood, Tennessee, has been appointed Chief Umpire of the 2015 US Open is thus an historic move, with the potential to affect attitudes in professional tennis.
“I am very excited to be the first openly gay man to have been named Chief Umpire of one of the most prestigious tennis events in the world,” Littrell reflected. “I think it’s a milestone for an openly gay man [to hold this position].” During his time in Nashville, Littrell served on the board of the Tennessee Equality Project, which he credits in part with his becoming secure about his sexual identity and gaining the confidence to live and work as an out gay man.
Littrell, who was Deputy Chief Umpire of the 2014 US Open, succeeds former Chief Umpire Phyllis “Woodie” Walker, who retired after succeeding longtime Chief Umpire Rich Kaufman for the 2014 US Open. Littrell’s primary role will be to oversee the umpires at the tournament, scheduling the on-court assignments of officials and establishing a rotation of officials, as well as setting procedures to be used by on-court officials. While on-site during all play, Littrell will be ineligible to serve as a chair or line umpire: he will evaluate the performance of all on-court officials at the US Open.
“Not only does Bruce have an incredible amount of experience as Chief Umpire at the highest levels of tennis, he has been an integral part of the Chief Umpire Staff at the US Open for more than a decade,” US Open Tournament Director Brewer said. “With such an accomplished background and a wide range of experience, Bruce is a perfect fit for Chief Umpire of the US Open.”
Littrell has been a USTA official since 1987 and has served on the Chief Umpire Staff at the US Open for 12 years, and has been the Chief Umpire or Assistant Chief Umpire for a number of high-level tour events over the last 15 years, including the Miami Open, Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati and BB&T Atlanta Open.