Co-founder of Outsports Cyd Zeigler has apologised after he said professional athletes who didn’t come out were “cowards”.

The controversy stems from Zeigler’s comments in an interview with Washington Post reporter, Steven Petrow, earlier this month.

In the interview, he is asked as an LGBT advocate how he feels about the need for Olympians and the media to use sexual orientation as an identifier.

In his reply, Zeigler said: “There are only two publicly out divers at the Games – Daley and Ian Matos of Brazil.

“There are so many more who are gay but aren’t out, both in diving and across the sports. Because so many athletes choose cowardice over courage and opt to stay in the closet, it’s important to continue to point out the out gay athletes so our youth see, very clearly, that you can be gay, be labelled gay, and still win medals.

“The people who complain about ID’ing athletes as gay in headlines don’t get the emails from young athletes about suicide that I get. If they did, they would think differently.”

However, in a post last week the 43-year-old apologised for “labelling” athletes in such a way.

“I feel terrible about two grossly hyperbolic statements I made in a recent story about gay professional athletes,” he said in a statement.

“Not only do I regret the words I used, but they don’t reflect how I feel, which makes it, for me, 10 times worse.

“I do not believe that, just because a professional athlete doesn’t come out publicly, he is a “coward.” And I don’t believe that just because someone doesn’t come out they show a “disdain” for the mental health of children. These are both gross concepts that don’t reflect the nuance of the broader issues or the struggles each person faces in their own lives. I know this.

“Yes, as a gay man working in sports I am frustrated with the lack of out athletes and coaches in men’s professional sports. But to call gay athletes “cowards” is not something I stand by and not something Outsports stands for.

“I apologise to every gay professional athlete whom I maligned with this language and these concepts. I am sorry. I will do better.”

You can watch the video apology below: