Tom Daley is one of highest profile athletes to come out as gay in recent months
Tom Daley is one of highest profile athletes to come out as gay in recent months Reuters

Does the growing number of high profile athletes to have come out as gay in recent months signal the passing of an era when sports professionals hid in the closet over fears about their sexuality?

There's a chance something is up when premier league footballers are the ones taking the step of announcing they 'play for the other side,' because few sports make it as difficult for their practitioners to be open and frank as top class football does.

Everybody has known that ex-tennis player Martina Navratilova is a lesbian since forever and who honestly was surprised when Splash! Host and diving champion Tom Daley revealed he has a boyfriend?

Tennis player Martina Navratilova has been out and proud for years
Tennis player Martina Navratilova has been out and proud for years Reuters

But football is different. The suicide of Justin Fashanu in 1998 and fears about how fans would react to openly gay players have long conspired to create a culture of omerta which is very different.

But with Thomas Hitzlsperger's action this week, we have the first Premier League player ever to reveal he is gay.

Former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, who has come out as gay
Former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, who has come out as gay Reuters

The former Aston Villa and West Ham midfielder followed in the footsteps of Robbie Rogers, who came out as gay 11 months ago. Rogers played one step below the Premier League for Leeds in the Championship. Both men have come out to positive receptions.

Robbie Rogers quit football after coming out as gay, but then changed his mind and joined LA Galaxy
Robbie Rogers quit football after coming out as gay, but then changed his mind and joined LA Galaxy Reuters

So could we know be on the cusp of change? This is probably premature until a player feels they can come out without waiting for retirement or having to flee overseas – like Rogers did. The former Leeds man made the announcement and then promptly quit playing. He quickly laced up his boots again in the footballing backwater of Major League Soccer when he found out nobody really minded.

Here is a selection of athletes to have come out. Perhaps they can help their fellow professionals who are currently stuck so far inside the closet they're in Narnia, like Daley did for Hitzlsperger.

Orlando Cruz:

Boxer Orlanda Cruz came out as gay in 2012 and has been challenging for championship belts
Boxer Orlanda Cruz came out as gay in 2012 and has been challenging for championship belts Reuters

If Hitzlsperger and Rogers think football's macho culture is an impediment, then try boxing. Middleweight Orlando Cruz was brave by announcing he is gay in 2012. The Puerto Rican was defeated in his bid to become he first ever openly gay boxing champion, last October.

Natalie Cook:

Aussie Natalie Cook married fellow player Sarah Maxwell in 2008
Aussie Natalie Cook married fellow player Sarah Maxwell in 2008 Reuters

Beach volleyballer Cook married fellow player Sarah Maxwell in 2008. The 38-year-old retired after a very successful and long career spanning two decades after the London Olympics, at which 19 out of 12,602 athletes were out as homosexual.

Gareth Thomas:

Gareth Thomas was
Gareth Thomas was "master at playing the straight man" during his rugby career, before coming out in 2009 Reuters

Rugby's own laddish culture of boozing and crunching tackles meant Gareth Thomas never revealed his sexuality until after he retired. The former Lions skipper came out in 2009 and has spoken of his shame at keeping it a secret during his playing years - during which time he was married and even tried for a baby with his wife.

Matthew Mitcham:

Coming out as gay was not all good for Diver Matthew Mitcham
Coming out as gay was not all good news for Diver Matthew Mitcham Reuters

Coming out at gay is not always a shortcut for the affection of the public. Aussie diver Matthew Mitcham won gold at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 but said later that coming out as gay ahead of the Games had cost him sponsorship.

Jason Collins:

Jason Collins in action for the Celtics before coming out as gay
Jason Collins in action for the Celtics before coming out as gay Reuters

Basketball player Jason Collins broke the mould by becoming the first player in the history of US team sports to come out as gay, last year. Collins was another player who stayed silent for years but then was clasped to the bosom of his sport after announcing his homosexuality.