Seattle Sonics point guard Sue Bird, a probable Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer and Rapinoe's girlfriend, came out as lesbian in 2016. Nearly a third of 2018 WNBA All-Stars were publicly out, according to Outsports, while Rapinoe was one of 40 out players at this summer's World Cup in France.
That is not the case in men's professional sports. Former MLS defender Robbie Rogers was the first openly gay men's athlete when he joined LA Galaxy in 2013, while NBA veteran Jason Collins became the first openly gay athlete to play in any of the four major North American professional men's sports in 2014 when he suited up with the Brooklyn Nets.
No active player in the NBA or the rest of the "big four" men's sports has followed in Rogers and Collins' footsteps since. Bird and Rapinoe said they hoped nights like Wednesday -- when the Warriors honored the couple during "LBGTQ Night" and hosted a postgame panel afterward -- could one day help open the door for more men's professional athletes to come out.
"Incredibly important," Bird told NBC Sports Bay Area's Kelli Johnson on "Warriors Pregame Live" on Wednesday. "The NBA is in a position where they can control a lot of narratives and to take away the stigma that [Rapinoe and I] feel very strongly connected to is huge."
The incredibly outspoken Rapinoe told Johnson that part of the reason she feels so compelled to user her platform to advance causes she cares about is the hope that it can inspire others. Representation matters, and men playing professional sports don't currently have nearly as many predecessors who came out to look to for inspiration as Bird and Rapinoe did.
"I think something like [Wednesday night] starts to set the culture prior to these players coming out because clearly they're not coming out yet," Rapinoe told Johnson. " ... But if you don't ever see it anywhere, if you don't see [an LGBTQ] night at any of the NBA teams, if you don't see anyone in uniform [or the front office who's] gay ... what's gonna make you feel comfortable to do that? To kind of create the culture first ... so that once these players are ready to come out, then we're ready for them to come out."
Rapinoe and Bird hope nights like Wednesday are the first step in creating that culture.