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Welcome Out, John Amaechi

Jim Burroway

February 8th, 2007

Update: An brief interview with Cleveland standout LeBron James appeared in the Columbus Dispatch showing the bind that gay athletes find themselves in.

amechi.jpgOutsports is reporting that John Amaechi, a former player for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Utah Jazz and Orlando Magic, has become the first NBA player to come out as gay.

He has a book coming in a couples of weeks. In Man In The Middle he talks about the difficulties of being a closeted professional athlete in the NBA. Ironically, it wasn’t until he was on contract with the Utah Jazz in the middle of conservative Mormon country that he felt secure enough to begin spending his off time in gay establishments and hanging out with a mostly gay circle of friends:

“Those grumpy social conservatives who continue to insist that gay life is lonely and unhappy have obviously never met my friends,” Amaechi wrote.

…He also acknowledges that those in gay clubs like New York’s Splash and Los Angeles’ Abbey who have claimed in the past to have spotted him there while he was with the Jazz may, in fact, have done so.

“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.”

Rumors about Amaechi had swirled for quite a while, egged on by his enjoyment of gardening, writing poetry, and listening to opera before gametime.

An interview with Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James reveals the impossible double-bind in which gay athletes in the professional leagues are placed. On the one hand, LeBron doesn’t think an openly gay athlete could survive in the NBA. But on the other hand, the fact that a gay athlete has to hide presents problems as well:

“We spend so much time together, honestly, that we’re kind of like a family,” James said. “We take showers with each other after practice. You’re on the bus talking about a lot of things. If you’re sitting there and you’re conversing with us but you’re not sincere about it … you’re kind of hiding it.

“As teammates, you have to be trustworthy, and if you’re gay and you’re not admitting it that you are, you’re not trustworthy.”

And yet, if you’re gay and you are admitting it, you’re running around on the court with a bulls-eye on your back. That’s a lot to deal with. For gay athletes in the major leagues thinking about coming out, it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Young people often look to sports figures as role models, and unfortunately many of the examples set by athletes are questionable at best. LGBT youth need good role models more than anyone. So far, they’ll have to settle on retired athletes. But if the excerpts from his forthcoming book are any indication, it looks like John Amaechi will make a fine role model.

Welcome out, John Amaechi.

See Also:

Coming Out On Our Team

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