A slam dunk for lesbian players

WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes’s dramatic coming-out has given this longtime fan and player of the game hope for the future of gay athletes. Now it’s up to the media to get in the game.



Sports have
always played an invaluable role in my life. When I was a
kid my parents thought I could become a star ballerina
and had me wearing pink leotards and a tutu.
Eventually they gave in to my pleas (and those of my
frustrated ballet instructor) and let me put the tutu in the
closet. What I really wanted was to accompany my father to
his many basketball practices, which he allowed after
much begging on my part. After practice I would
listen, rapt, to Dad’s stories about trying to
play for the whites-only basketball team of his alma mater,
Louisiana State University, in the 1960s.

That’s how
the love affair began. I didn’t care what venue or
team it involved—I just needed to be around
that brown bouncing ball, either playing or watching
the game. I wanted the sense of strength and
fortitude, the team-oriented atmosphere—and yes, even
the power—that comes with being an athlete, all
of which are rarely offered to African-American girls.

So I
practiced...a lot. Fifty free throws a day, jogging two to
three miles before I went to school, three hours of
shooting, and of course, I could never actually play
enough. Being a girl, a lesbian, and an
African-American can make a person’s life
challenging. But sports evened the playing field. You
weren’t alone; you had a support system that
exemplified the old American adage “If you work
really hard, you’ll succeed.”

Fast-forward to
my early teens in the mid ’80s, and my love of sports
was confirmed by the way I felt when I first saw a
televised game of Cheryl Miller taking her University
of Southern California team to the NCAA championship.
It was easily one of the defining moments of my life. Here
was an African-American woman, on one of the earliest
nationally televised women’s sporting events,
playing like she had every right to be just as good as
the guys. It was the grooviest thing. I wanted to be just
like her—without the perm.

Now WNBA All-Star
Sheryl Swoopes has come out. “I’m at a point
in my life where I’m tired of having to say,
‘Don’t tell this person or don’t tell
that person,’ ” Swoopes told The
for a November cover story.
“Hopefully many other people out there will look at
this and say...‘If she’s doing it, why
can’t I?’ ”

I was reminded of
the photo of Swoopes, during her pregnancy years ago,
that was featured on the cover of Sports
’s inaugural women’s
magazine. The message that photo sent to me was that it
wasn’t good enough to be great at
sports—it was also necessary to exude
heterosexuality. I imagine that as Swoopes continued to grow
as an athlete, the sacrifices required by this team
mentality shortchanged her personal life, and she
became an actor in a role she never realized she’d
signed up to play.

Tags: Sports