Amaechi is recognized as the first NBA player to be openly gay and released a memoir Man in the Middle in 2007. The book and Amaechi were met with mixed results from active NBA players. Some applauded his courage while others scrutinized the notion that there was a gay man amongst them. Players like Tim Hardaway expressed how they wouldn’t be willing to accept a gay player as a teammate. But Amaechi’s former teammate and now retired NBA player Troy Hudson understands both the locker room mentality and sympathizes with Amaechi and other gay athletes who remain silent.
“Little things like taking a shower in the locker room would make them uncomfortable,” Hudson says when asked why players are apprehensive about having a gay teammate in the locker room. “I think that if an athlete is gay it makes it hard for him to be part of the team. The biggest concern is that they will lose friendship and brotherhood with their teammates.”
Another rationale is that some feel they may be perceived as gay by association. “It’s not just that you are not gay, but you aren’t even going to be close to being gay,” says Khalid Salaam, Slam magazine Senior Writer. “Not because you’re against it. Rather, our culture doesn’t allow you to exist comfortably in it until you get much older.”
On the other side of the coin are the struggles of the lesbian community in sports, which are nearly polar opposites of their male counterparts. A reverse sexism comes into play for female athletes who are oftentimes assumed to be gay simply because of their physical prowess. When Swoopes, who is frequently referred to as the “female Michael Jordan,” revealed that she was gay in 2005, the news came and went without nearly as much buzz as if a male athlete were to do the same. It’s a double standard based on presumed gender roles that show no signs of changing anytime soon.
Both Hudson and Salaam agree that acceptance of the LGBT community is not as widespread as we may think and point out members of the Christian and hip-hop community who are sports fans yet still homophobic. “You think that coming out would open up the horizons, but it does just the opposite,” Salaam says. “Nobody is ready to be that scrutinized.”
Slowly, the tide is starting to turn. Phoenix Suns president Rick Weltz recently came out and Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin appeared on the cover of Out Magazine to lend his support to the LGBT community and share his story of dealing with his brother’s confession of being gay. Despite these small signs of progress, we’re still a long way from seeing gay professional athletes come out in numbers. However, nobody will deny their existence. “It’s not shocking at all to find gay athletes in sports,” Hudson says. “It’s more shocking to have the courage to come out.”