An American newspaper has been accused of outing Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan by publishing a photograph of her playing softball as a student.

The Wall Street Journal published a photo of her on Tuesday playing softball as a student at the University of Chicago in 1993.

A number of gay figures have claimed this is effectively an outing because softball is seen as a ‘lesbian sport’.

Cathy Renna, a former spokesperson for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, told the Daily Telegraph: “It clearly is an allusion to her being gay. It’s just too easy a punch line.”

John Wright, of gay newspaper Dallas Voice, said: “Personally I think the newspaper, which happens to have the largest circulation of any in the US, might as well have gone with a headline that said, ‘Lesbian or switch-hitter?'”

Ms Kagan, who is unmarried, has been the subject of intense rumours about her sexuality but says she is not a lesbian. The White House has gone as far as releasing a statement quashing claims of her homosexuality.

The Wall Street Journal, which published the image on its front page, has rubbished suggestions it was outing Ms Kagan.

Deputy managing editor Alan Murray called them “absurd”, while spokeswoman Ashley Huston responded: “If you turn the photo upside down, reverse the pixelation, and simultaneously listen to Abbey Road backwards, while reading Roland Barthes, you will indeed find a very subtle hidden message.”