Saturday, March 10, 2007

She Swoopes To Conquer

By Arnold Wayne Jones
Staff Writer, Dallas Voice
Mar 8, 2007, 19:12

WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes, who rocked pro athletics by coming out at the height of her career, has some choice words for Tim Hardaway

More people have probably used the words “gay” and “basketball” in the same breath in the last two months than at any other time in history. And it’s not because of March Madness. The discussion was stirred by retired NBA player Jon Amaechi’s decision to come out, followed soon thereafter by ex-star Tim Hardaway’s proudly homophobic remarks that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to exist.

But the dialogue over gay athletes in basketball really started more than a year ago when WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes came out.

At the time of her admission to being lesbian in October 2005, Swoopes became (and still remains) the only player on a professional team sport to come out as gay or lesbian while still active.

What made her announcement all the more remarkable was that it came not from a minor player or someone hawking a new memoir, but an acknowledged superstar in her field with nothing to sell at all. No, the Texan-bred Swoopes — a three-time MVP with the Houston Comets, three-time Olympic gold medalist and the first woman to have a Nike shoe named for her — had far more to lose financially than to gain. Yet she came out anyway.

Prior to her appearance at several events in Dallas this weekend, Swoopes shared her thoughts about the Amaechi-Hardaway debacle, the state of pro sports for gay athletes and why she chose to come out when she did.

Sheryl Swoopes will appear at a private home at 5214 Livingston Ave. at 6 p.m. on Friday. $350. 972-383-6926. She will also speak at the Lambda Legal Women’s Brunch, “Making the Case for Equality,” at a private home at 8505 Douglas Ave. at 11 a.m. on Saturday. $100 suggested donation. 214-219-8585.

Were you surprised when Jon Amaechi came out — or by Tim Hardaway’s response? No and no. I think what Jon Amaechi did was very courageous. And obviously, I am very supportive of the decision he made. I was not surprised by what Tim said, but it could have been any NBA player to make that comment. That’s how society is, and how sports are. It is kind of disappointing. I have know Tim Hardaway for a while and admired him as an athlete, so to hear his comment made so strongly was more hurtful and disappointing than anything.

Had Tim Hardaway ever said such things to you directly? No. But then I don’t hang out with NBA guys. I saw him in January, and he didn’t treat me any differently than he ever has.

After you came out, did anyone make Hardaway-like comments about you? I haven’t heard any yet. It wouldn’t surprise me if it happened and I just don’t know about it — I’m sure people had comments but everything I’ve heard directly has been very positive and supportive.

You came out while still an active player, a first for a team-sport athlete. Why? It didn’t have anything to do with me saying, “Do I want to do it while I’m still playing or do I want to wait?”

For me, the timing was perfect. I was at a point where I was tired of not being able to be me. I knew I’d have to deal with everything that came along, whether it be good, bad or indifferent. But I didn’t discuss my decision with anyone. I just said, “This is the day.” I could not ask what’s gonna happen, what’s the league is going to say, how my teammates would feel.

That was brave. I think so, too. But there are so many other issues that are bigger and more important in this world than we should be concerned with than dealing with someone’s sexuality. Of course, that’s what people want to read, so that’s what people cover.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently said he thinks gay players should come out because it would actually do wonders for their marketability, making them media stars. Agree? I agree — it would be a huge media circus. But I would bet my life that he’d have a hard time selling that to current NBA players. When I made my decision — and to this day I haven’t regretted it — I didn’t say, “These are all the endorsements I could lose.” What I gained was peace of mind and happiness, which outweighs all the money in the world.

But when you talk about male athletes — and not just basketball players but all male professional athletes — their biggest concern is “What about my endorsements? What’s the money I’m going to lose?” It becomes such a huge male-ego thing. Even Jon Amaechi said the NBA is not ready for a current player to come out.

What Tim Hardaway said not only hurt Jon and myself but all the younger people who are dealing with this who think “I can’t do this because this is how people truly feel.” And I think that’s unfortunate. I think what Jon and I did will do the world more good than harm; what Tim Hardaway did is just the opposite.

Do you think it was harder to come out because you did still had to deal with teammates and fans? I think it’s hard, period. There are so many issues you have to deal with. I don’t think it’s any easier for a female athlete than a male. But I got to a point where I didn’t care about those things anymore. The entire time I was being what everybody else thought I should be, I was totally miserable. I would go to bed with a headache or a stomach ache and wake up that way. No one in their right mind could say that was healthy or good.

I have to thank Martina [Navratilova] and Billie Jean [King], because when they made that decision they lost so much money. But they kind of set the bar for other female athletes. They did it and are very successful now — why shouldn’t I? Why couldn’t I?

Aside from the gay issue, what is the state of the WBNA right now? I think there’s always room to grow. When you look at the women’s college game, it’s in a very good place. Look at all the talent and potential that’s there.

As for the WNBA, we have a lot of room to grow and you can only hope that the WNBA is going to be very successful. I do believe it will be around a while because of all the talent.

How do you want to be remembered as an athlete? I’m proud of what I did or helped to do at Texas Tech, which I think will always be remembered. Being on the first team to win four championships in a row, and the first woman to receive three MVP awards, was great. And being able to represent your country [in the Olympics] is phenomenal honor, but three times was a dream come true. One doesn’t mean more to me than another.

But when I’m done playing, whether that’s in a year or two or three, I want people to look back and say I had it all and did it all. Every time I stepped on the floor, I left if all there.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 09, 2007
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