February 9, 2007
Volume 35
Issue 06
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Tuesday, May 26, 2020



NBA player come out as a Gay man
NBA player come out as a Gay man
Out athletes now represent three of four major American sports

by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

Former NBA center John Amaechi, who spent five seasons in the NBA playing for Orlando, Utah and Cleveland, became the sixth professional male athlete in major sports to come out as a Gay man. The announcement corresponds with the release of his new book and an interview with ESPN. The book, entitled Man in the Middle details his early life and the years he spent in the NBA.

Five players, representing only two of the four major American sports, had come out prior to this week. Former NFL running back David Kopay, who also played collegiate football for the University of Washington, came out in 1977. More recently, lineman Roy Simmons and defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo also came out. In baseball, outfielder Glenn Burke, utility player Billy Bean and umpire Dave Pallone have come out.

"What John did is amazing, Tuaolo, who came out in 2002, told "He does not know how many lives he's saved by speaking the truth."

Tennis champion Martina Navratilova, who is a Lesbian, also told that out athletes save young lives. "He will definitely help a lot of kids growing up to feel better about themselves," she said.

In a in-depth interview with ESPN's "Outside The Lines," which is set to air on Sunday, Amaechi said he has spoken to other gay NBA players. "I don't know if there are a lot, but there are some," he said. "But you know ... I don't really want to talk about it because I think that the coming out process for these individuals that for some I have been privy to and some I have not, um, it is theirs and theirs alone. And I don't think that they should be pressured or pushed for the good of the gay community or otherwise. They should not be pressured or pushed.

"There are people for whom their entire world is based around this idea that people will look at them and when they look at them, they are NBA superstars, NBA players. And any change to that would be physiologically devastating. Emotionally devastating, financially devastating."

In his interview and book, Amaechi said he realized as a young teen that he might be Gay, but had hid that fact from others during his years playing collegiate sports for Vanderbilt and Penn State and while playing for the NBA's Cavaliers and Magic. While playing for the Jazz, he said, he began to visit Gay clubs and live more openly about his sexuality.

"Some time after Christmas of my last Utah season, as the team was sliding out of contention, [Andrei Kirilenko] instant-messaged an invitation to his New Year's Eve party, explaining he was only inviting his 'favorite' friends. Then he wrote something that brought tears to my eyes: 'Please come, John. You are welcome to bring your partner, if you have one, someone special to you. Who it is makes no difference to me'," Amaechi wrote. "I was hosting my own party that night, so I had to decline his sweet invitation. But I was moved. I had Ryan deliver [Kirilenko] a $500 bottle of Jean Paul Gaulthier-dressed champagne.

"The whole exchange was a revelation. [Kirilenko]'s generous overture made the season more bearable. It also showed that in my own paranoia and overwhelming desire for privacy, I'd failed to give some of my teammates the benefit of the doubt. The sense of welcome and belonging, so often denied gay people even by their own families, meant the world to me, especially in the middle of a dreadful season in a strange desert state that in the end provided some of the best days of my life."

Amaechi also praised former teammate Greg Ostertag, the only player to ever ask if he was Gay. "You have nothing to worry about Greg," Amaechi had replied.

However, Amaechi criticized teammate Karl Malone, who he called a xenophobe, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who he said "hated" him, and Jazz owner Larry Miller, who he described as a "bigot." Sloan, he said, made homophobic remarks and mistreated him.

"I have coached more than 100 players during the past 19 seasons, and it has always been my philosophy that my job is to make sure Jazz players perform to their maximum ability on the floor. As far as his personal life is concerned, I wish John the best and have nothing further to add," said Sloan in a written statement.

NBA commissioner David Stern told The Associated Press this week that a player's sexuality is not important. "We have a very diverse league. The question at the NBA is always, 'Have you got game?' That's it, end of inquiry," he said.

NBA player reaction to Amaechi's disclosure has been mixed, according to media reports. Magic player Grant Hill, praised the former player, saying it might "give others the comfort and confidence to come out as well..." Meanwhile, Sixers player Shavlik Randolph said an openly Gay player "would create awkwardness in the locker room."

The Boston born Amaechi had moved to England as a toddler to escape his father and later returned to the United States where he played high school basketball in Toledo, Ohio. Before coming to the NBA, he also played college basketball for Vanderbilt and Penn State.

After retiring three years ago, Amaechi has become well known in Britain as a television personality and the founder of the Amaechi Basketball Center in Manchester, England.

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