former NBA center John Amaechi came out as a gay man in
February, he was not hailed as a hero. Why did he wait
till he was retired? gay critics carped.
Why did he have to air his private business at
all? straight critics rejoined. It's instructive
commentary on what we expect of our heroes and what we
expect of ourselves. In a gay press exclusive
interview with The Advocate, Amaechi opens up
about the real dangers of being gay in the big
leagues--and why no active male professional athlete
is coming out anytime soon.
Born in the U.S.
and raised in England, Amaechi started his basketball
career at Penn State, home of the notoriously homophobic
women's coach Rene Portland. He played for four
NBA teams in five years. He turned down a $17 million
contract with the L.A. Lakers to stay with the Orlando
Magic before moving to the Utah Jazz, where he had a
combative relationship with coach Jerry Sloan. Case in
point: When Sloan called him the c word during
a game, he told him to fuck off. He is the first male
pro basketball player to tell the world he's gay and
only the sixth male athlete in the major U.S. pro
sports ever to come out.
it's not how high he rose in the NBA but that he got
there at all. His new memoir, Man in the Middle
(ESPN Books, $25.95), uncorks a story of tough
challenges met with tougher resolve. Example:
Amaechi's right hand was nearly severed when he was
16 at the time he started playing ball. So, he became
ambidextrous--a skill that helped him get to
America and the pros.
Being gay was not
the point then. It is now. In addition to his work in
England with his Amaechi Basketball Center, Amaechi is a new
spokesman for Human Rights Campaign's Coming
Out Project. "I'm resilient enough,
eloquent enough, and outspoken enough to try and open some
minds," he says.