Steve's Soapbox

Thursday, October 27, 2005

" one's sexuality doesn't have an impact on one's bench press, 40-yard dash speed, vertical leap, fastball " ..........

Swoopes 'tired of having to pretend'
WNBA star now most prominent openly gay athlete in team sports
11:46 PM CDT on Wednesday, October 26, 2005
By BARRY HORN / The Dallas Morning News

HOUSTON – On the morning she was to reintroduce herself to the world, Sheryl Swoopes overslept.

Sheryl Swoopes says she has received support in her athletic circle, but her mother has yet to accept her relationship with Alisa Scott (right).
"It's a good thing I slept in," she said, arriving 90 minutes late for her first interview since revealing she is a lesbian. "Less time to be nervous today."
Ms. Swoopes is a daughter of small-town West Texas who grew up to lead Texas Tech to an NCAA women's basketball championship before winning three Olympic basketball gold medals as well as three WNBA Most Valuable Player awards.
"I hadn't thought about being a high-profile person," Ms. Swoopes told The Dallas Morning News. "My reason for coming out has nothing to do with throwing this in people's faces. I just wanted to breathe ... I think this will be very comforting."
Ms. Swoopes, the first female athlete to have her own signature shoe (Nike's Air Swoopes) follows in the footsteps of a handful of professional athletes who have publicly proclaimed they are gay. Tennis star Martina Navratilova and golfer Rosie Jones have stepped out of the closet. Last year, Michele Van Gorp of the Minnesota Lynx became the first active WNBA player to announce she was gay.
No active American male athlete involved in a team sport has ever publicly declared his homosexuality.
At age 34, Ms. Swoopes, a member of the Comets since the WNBA's inaugural season in 1997, intends to keep playing in the league "as long as they let me."
The reigning WNBA MVP, who has an 8-year-old son from a previous marriage, told her story as she sat alongside her partner, Alisa Scott, on a sofa in a meeting room of a posh Houston hotel.
Ms. Swoopes' day was orchestrated by a Los Angeles-based public relations firm, hired by a San Francisco-based lesbian travel tour company, Olivia, which Ms. Swoopes is set to endorse. ESPN The Magazine hit the newsstands Wednesday with a first-person story by Ms. Swoopes. People magazine's Swoopes story is set to hit later this week, complementing a whirlwind television blitz.
"If I would have felt comfortable enough five years ago, I would have done this then," said Ms. Swoopes, a native of Brownfield, Texas. "Finally, I am at a point in my life where I am content and tired of having to pretend."
Ms. Swoopes decided to publicly declare her sexual orientation sometime over the summer. She and Ms. Scott had signed up with Olivia for a fall cruise. When the chief executive officer of Olivia, Amy Errett, saw Ms. Swoopes' name on the list, she was intrigued.
Ms. Errett attended a Comets game in Los Angeles and set up dinner through a mutual acquaintance.
At the end of the meal, Ms. Errett asked Ms. Swoopes "to consider endorsing us."
The request provided the impetus Ms. Swoopes needed to "go public."
"It's been unhealthy to have to look over my shoulder for the last seven years," Ms. Swoopes said. "Think what it's like not to announce your love."
On Wednesday, Ms. Swoopes' revelation received support from the WNBA, the Comets, Nike and Marsha Sharp, her coach at Texas Tech.
"I will always love and respect Sheryl Swoopes as a player and a person," Ms. Sharp said. "She obviously has been and always will be a huge part of Lady Raider basketball. I will always be one of her biggest fans."
Ms. Swoopes said she has been surprised by the attention her revelation received since word about it began trickling out last week.
"I never had so many newspapers and TV networks calling me up asking what it's like to be an MVP," Ms. Swoopes said with a laugh.
Ms. Swoopes said her sexual orientation has been known around the WNBA. What she believes will surprise her fellow players is her willingness to talk about it. Ms. Scott, her partner of seven years, is a former assistant coach with the Comets.
"It seems to be a big issue when people discuss the WNBA," she said. "It seems like it's all people talk about. 'Is she? Or isn't she?' You could go to Major League Baseball, the NBA or the NFL, and you would find gay people. But nobody seems to care as much as they do with the WNBA."
Ms. Swoopes married her high school sweetheart, Eric Jackson, soon after leaving Texas Tech, where she and the Red Raiders won a national title in 1993. They had a son, Jordan Eric, born in 1997.
When her relationship with Mr. Jackson started to crumble and divorce became inevitable, Ms. Swoopes turned to Ms. Scott for emotional support.
"I was straight," Ms. Swoopes said. "Or at least I think I was. ... I don't know if I was born this way, but that's the way I am now."
Ms. Swoopes' anxiety Wednesday was no match for the nerves she felt five years ago when she broke the news of her relationship with "Scottie" to her mother. She prepared for the moment by earlier confiding in her older brother, James, who hugged his sister and told her he supported her.
Louise Swoopes was not as understanding. Her daughter remembers her asking, "What did I do wrong?"
Sheryl Swoopes, who has never met her father, said she told her mother, who now lives nearby in Houston, that she did nothing wrong.
"I told her she raised me to be a strong, powerful black woman who controlled my own life," Ms. Swoopes said. "I said, 'I can't help the person I fall in love with.' Everyone says it will take time for her to accept it. I don't know if there is enough time."
Ms. Swoopes and Ms. Scott began explaining their relationship to Jordan Eric, 8, soon after he asked, "Mom, is Scottie your boyfriend?"
They sat down with him again Tuesday night to prepare him for Ms. Swoopes' public revelation.
It's not her son that Ms. Swoopes remains worried about. It's other people's children.
"I don't want this to change people's perception of me," she said. "I like being a role model. I'm still a good person. This doesn't change me. It only makes me stronger."

Swoopes is providing an opportunity
Sports has a chance, once again, to open society's doors, minds
08:31 PM CDT on Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Who knows how long ago Sheryl Swoopes first informed a teammate or coach about her homosexuality, which, to begin with, was no one but Swoopes' business. Swoopes said her sexuality has been known around the WNBA for a number of years. That is mere historical footnote. Hopefully, her public announcement on Wednesday that she is lesbian will one day wind up to be little more than minutiae as well.
What is significant, however, is that during her now nine-year-long professional basketball career in this country, she and her Houston Comets managed to win and win big, four league championships in a row at one point.

Swoopes 'tired of having to pretend'
Blackistone: Swoopes is providing an opportunity

In 2004, 2000 and 1996, she and her Olympic teammates did the same, earning gold medals.
And in 2002, she and her U.S. World Championship teammates won it all, too.
Her homosexuality was, as it should've been, of no consequence. Swoopes' coaches and teammates, no matter their sexuality, embraced her and, given her prowess – a three-time WNBA MVP and former college player of the year at Texas Tech and South Plains Junior College – even followed her.
Women are so much more mature than men. With the exception of women like Rene Portland, Penn State women's basketball coach who suddenly is under fire from students for allegedly forcing a player off the team because Portland believed her to be lesbian, women seem much less likely to be hung up on anything that makes one person on Earth different from many of us.
That's the only unfortunate part of Wednesday's great sports revelation. It didn't come from a male athlete of Swoopes' status. As a result, a public that assumes female athletes, especially those on the basketball court, are lesbians anyway will mostly shrug off Swoopes' disclosure. Even the gay blog Queerty responded to Swoopes' announcement sarcastically: "Big shock."
But had a current star in the NBA, NFL, NHL or Major League Baseball sat down Wednesday on a couch with his lover, as Swoopes did with hers, and told the media that he was gay, the White House CIA leak, Iraq/Afghanistan, disaster relief and other current front-page stories would have become "in other news" items for a day or two.
Such a confession would force the homophobes not just in locker rooms, but elsewhere, to confront the fallacy of their fears and realize that one's sexuality doesn't have an impact on one's bench press, 40-yard dash speed, vertical leap, fastball or, for that matter, the ability to be a CEO, CFO, DDS or short-order cook.
That, after all, is one of the great gifts of sport. It can be a great destroyer of stereotypes, despite Air Force football coach Fisher DeBerry's having to apologize Wednesday for repeating the tired belief that black football players equate to fast football players and, by deduction, white football players, by and large, do not.
That's the kind of thinking that years ago would've denied Michael Vick the chance to play quarterback and Tim Dwight, who is white, the chance to return kicks.
That's the kind of thinking that would've kept Ken Williams, who is black, from getting to assemble a World Series championship team as he's just about done with the Chicago White Sox as its general manager.
That's the kind of thinking that would've stopped Madeleine Albright from becoming the first woman U.S. Secretary of State.
That's the kind of thinking that would've kept Barney Frank, who is gay, from even entertaining the idea of running for the U.S. Congress.
When meritocracy is allowed to rule, that is what sports can do: broaden opportunities to all of those who are so deserving regardless of race, creed, color, religion, sex or, as Swoopes is underscoring, sexuality.
Indeed, there were gains being made in the military and the courts in breaking down segregation before Jackie Robinson was allowed to integrate modern-day baseball. But it was the success of the Robinson experiment, which the country took note of most, that hastened the string of successful legal challenges to segregation in this country in the '50s and '60s.
That Swoopes decided to go public with her sexuality is in a sense a sign of progress against sex and sexuality discrimination. She doesn't have to worry about the type of backlash Martina Navratilova felt a generation or so ago when she stopped hiding as a lesbian. Navratilova watched endorsements dry up.
Swoopes declared her homosexuality as a new paid spokesperson for a lesbian travel company that sponsors Navratilova too. Nike didn't announce it was withdrawing its longtime endorsement contract with her.
"Sheryl Swoopes is a great basketball player who has and continues to entertain our fans all over the world," WNBA president Donna Orender stated Wednesday. "We wish for her only the best."
Imagine the blow against homophobia a male Sheryl Swoopes could strike.