John Amaechi
Basketballers Coming Out: A Brief History

By Trudy Ring

Originally published on Advocate.com April 29 2013 3:09 PM ET

Before Jason Collins came out via Sports Illustrated today, making him the first openly gay man playing a major pro team sport, an NBA retiree made headlines by coming out as gay.

John Amaechi, who played for U.S. teams including the Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, and New York Knicks as well as in Europe, came out in his memoir Man in the Middle, published in February 2007. In conjunction with the book’s release, he gave an interview to The Advocate, saying, “I am gay, black, British, smart, dumb, patronizing, stubborn, all these other things — flawed in many ways — and I am now asserting my activism.” For that activism, he has received many honors, including being named an officer of the Order of the British Empire.

On the women’s side, WNBA superstar Sheryl Swoopes came out as lesbian in 2005, but in 2011 she broke up with her longtime girlfriend and became engaged to a man. However, Swoopes “wasn't renouncing homosexuality or saying she wished she hadn’t said what she did in 2005,” Mechelle Voegel of ESPN wrote in 2011. Some bloggers took the news to mean that Swoopes isn’t gay, but others said it merely indicated sexual fluidity or proved that bisexuality indeed exists. Swoopes, for her part, has disdained labels. Another major WNBA player, Seimone Augustus of the Minnesota Lynx, has come out as gay. And this year the league’s top draft pick, Brittney Griner, broke down the closet door and came out as soon as she was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury. Nike quickly tapped her to endorse its products, a sign that corporate America isn’t so skittish about gay athletes after all.