Thursday, February 08, 2007

Amaechi Comes Out, Leaves Unanswered Questions About Gay Athletes in Major Sports

Former NBA journeyman John Amaechi has announced, very publically, that he is gay. Amaechi starred on an otherwise average Penn State team in college; then signed with the Orlando Magic as an undrafted free agent. He played five solid seasons in the league before returning home to England and becoming a television personality. He will formally discuss his sexuality Sunday on ESPN's Outside the Lines; his book Man in the Middle comes out next week.

Amaechi recalls becoming more comfortable with his sexual orientation when he was with the Utah Jazz, though only a couple teammates were aware that he was gay. In the wake of the former player's revelation, reaction around the league has been mixed. (Commissioner David Stern said, "We have a very diverse league. The question at the NBA is always, 'Have you got game?' That's it, end of inquiry.") According to, about 60% of NBA players say that they would accept an openly gay teammate.

Amaechi isn't the first former player from a major American team sport to come out. Actually, he's the sixth. Other notable openly gay former jocks include baseball player Billy Bean (currently a personality on GSN) and NFL running back David Kopay. Still, no homosexual athlete in a major team sport has been open about his sexuality while he was playing. (I say "he" because homosexuality doesn't carry the same stigma in women's athletics.) ESPN the Magazine's LZ Granderson calls out closeted athletes and tells them to "man up." He adds:

Closeted athletes are miserable.

They have thoughts of suicide, they can't perform as well as they'd like, they live in constant anxiety of being found out, and while their heterosexual teammates are out chasing skirts during road trips, they stay locked up in their hotel rooms afraid to make eye contact with anyone because the bellhop's gaydar may go off. . . .

An athlete in 2007 who stays in the closet during his playing days does more to support homophobia in sports than coming out after retirement does to combat it.


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