John Amaechi comes out

You probably haven’t heard of him, if you aren’t a basketball fan. But he used to play for the Utah Jazz, among other teams, and it was in Utah where he first came out. He is scheduled to come out publicly the day before Valentine’s Day, in conjunction with the release of his book. What is most interesting about this story, to me anyway, is this:

“By the end of my second Utah season, I was practically daring reporters to take the bait and out me,” he wrote. “But it never happened. My sexuality, I felt, had become an open secret, which was fine by me. I’d left enough open to interpretation that suspicions were gaining momentum.”

In other words, he was out, to himself and others, but the media refused to report this information or confirm or deny the reports that he might be gay, and there was a great deal of speculation (about him, and other players). I remember Tracy McGrady saying he knew definitively of at least one gay NBA player, and he used to play with Amaechi in Orlando.

So much emphasis is put on celebrities “not coming out” and not being open about their sexuality, and the way this contributes to misconceptions and homophobia. But Amaechi’s quotes (and read the article, it’s the best one I’ve found on this story) illustrate how much control the media (and by that I mean newspapers, television stations, publicity agents) has in determining not only how something will be reported but also whether it will be reported. How many other pro-athletes are not out because someone has decided sports fans can’t handle the juxtaposition of queerness and sports ability? Why does the media think we can’t handle this?

It’s a little like parents who go to great lengths to protect their children from knowing about things like drugs or sex, when their kids are already aware of these things. I’ve spent a lot of time on sports message boards, and despite the juvenile sexualized comments, it has become clear to me that the average sports fan, as well as heterosexual professional athlete, is perfectly capable of reconciling a person’s gay identity with their athletic ability.

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~ by realsupergirl on February 7, 2007.

13 Responses to “John Amaechi comes out”

  1. The Utah media would have NEVER outed a queer sports figure. There is no way the Mormon Church would allow that AT ALL.

  2. But Amaechi was pretty clear that he was talking about being gay to sportswriters, who don’t necessarily answer to the Mormon church. I’m guessing either the media he spoke to, the NBA, Amaechi’s agent, or the NBA teams he played for made the decision not to release the information.

  3. Do not underestimate the Mormon Church when it comes to the Utah Jazz. The Mo’s have a LOT of power, not just in Utah but especially there, and they have a strong financial hold over a good chunk of that part of the country. I don’t know for sure but I would bet they are involved, for real.

    The reason the Boy Scouts are so conservative is because of the Mormon Church as well.

  4. You may be right. The Morman church would like to be as big of a political organization as the Catholic church someday.

    I also found a reference to Amaechi’s thoughts on his coaches – he said that while he has great respect for Jeff Van Gundy (currently coaching for Houston, former coach of NY) he has no respect for Jerry Sloan (long, long time coach for Utah) because he used to use thinly veiled anti-gay references to his sexuality in talking about Amaechi to his teammates. I imagine this had something to do with whether Amaechi was out.

  5. Just curious here for the sake of discussion — how would sexuality play into a sport’s figures ability to play? As a journalist – – I was always taught that when it came to identifiers such as gender, race and sexuality –there need be NO mention unless it was a part of the story. I would find it odd, to read a sports story about a basketball game in which one player is so-and-so, defensive yadayada and No. 37, a gay player, went to the basket for an amazing slam dunk….

    thoughts?

  6. Well, it depends on the context of the story, doesn’t it?

    I mean, if they’re reporting on the game, it shouldn’t matter. But obviously, there are lots of stories about professional athletes personal lives (Tony and Eva are dating! Tony and Eva have broken up! Tony and Eva are getting married!) and then, it doesn’t seem right to allow only the straight players to be able to be open about their personal lives.

  7. http://select.nytimes.com/2007/02/08/sports/ncaabasketball/08roberts.html?_r=1&ref=sports&oref=login

    A Player Serves Notice to Homophobic Sports Culture

    By SELENA ROBERTS
    Published: February 8, 2007
    Penn State Coach Rene Portland’s gaydar is obviously haywire.

    Penn State wound up fining Coach Rene Portland $10,000 as the result of a lawsuit.

    In a new book, the former N.B.A. and Penn State player John Amaechi says he is gay.
    As the self-described Mommy Coach of Happy Valley, Portland has cropped hair, wears boxy game-day suits and squats on the basketball sideline in unladylike poses, but she knows a lesbian when she sees one.

    Portland was sure Jennifer Harris was gay, and her player did not wear a tool belt. The coach allegedly urged Harris to act feminine, sleuthed around her love life and ultimately dismissed Harris from the team in 2005 for her sexual orientation.

    Except that Harris said she wasn’t gay. If Portland whiffed on Harris, did she miss on John Amaechi, too?

    He was right under her nose. Same gym, same facility. As a brutish center with a British accent, Amaechi played on the Penn State men’s team in the mid-1990s before a five-year career in the National Basketball Association where he was known for his manly effort and wit.

    Straight as a free-throw line, Portland probably thought.

    Wrong again. Amaechi will announce he is gay in a new book, “Man in the Middle,” from ESPN Books, ESPN.com said yesterday, commencing what will certainly be a rainbow week of synergy on Disney’s wide world of ESPN.

    Bloggers knew the scoop. Amaechi’s outing has been circulating in cyberspace for weeks, with a buzz over the first former N.B.A. player to disclose his homosexuality.

    Gay athletes in the National Football League and Major League Baseball have discussed the terror and isolation they have felt in the locker room and the clubhouse for years, but only after their careers were over.

    No current male player in the four major professional sports has dared to come out. Gay players are conditioned to fear being themselves from the beginning, from high school into college. Teammates can be cruel, but so can coaches who perpetuate stereotypes.

    Harris had the courage to confront the bullies when she took a legal stance that would turn out to be a watershed moment for all athletes, whether gay, transgender or straight.

    Harris didn’t have to be a lesbian to be outraged by Portland. Now a player at James Madison University, Harris weathered a year of scrutiny when she sued Portland and Penn State in federal court. The lawsuit was settled in a confidential agreement on Monday, ending a revealing 13 months for the university and its women’s basketball coach.

    Former Penn State players with their own tales of Portland’s bias emerged to support Harris. Anti-gay comments Portland publicly uttered in 1986 and 1991 resurfaced. And Penn State, which began a six-month internal investigation, found Portland created a “hostile, intimidating and offensive environment” and fined its coach $10,000.

    Somehow, Portland, who never conceded wrongdoing, escaped a feminine pink slip even as she shrugged off the reprimand from her superiors.

    there’s more but it was too long to post

  8. In the American west, the Mormon church is as big as the Roman Catholics, maybe bigger.

  9. SD, is that you?
    Thanks for the link…good article.

  10. Hello. My name is Mike. I wandered into your journal and felt compelled to add you. Cheers.

  11. Welcome! How did you happen to wander over here? I’m always curious about the connections.

  12. A comment in true hoops.

  13. Ahhhhhhh. Cool!

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