Houston Comets star Sheryl Swoopes has outed herself in a magazine article.
“My reason for coming out isn’t to be some sort of hero,” Swoopes said in an interview that appears in the current issue of ESPN The Magazine. “I’m just at a point in my life where I’m tired of having to pretend to be somebody I’m not.
“I’m tired of having to hide my feelings about the person I care about. About the person I love. Male athletes of my caliber probably feel like they have a lot more to lose than gain (by coming out). I don’t agree with that. To me, the most important thing is happiness.”
In the ESPN magazine article, Swoopes said she has been involved in a same-sex relationship with former Comets assistant coach Alisa Scott since shortly after divorcing Eric Jackson, her high-school sweetheart and husband of three years, in 1999.
According to the ESPN article, the 34-year-old Swoopes is the most recognizable athlete, male or female, to come out in a team sport. In September, Swoopes became the first WNBA player to be named MVP for a third time.
According to this AP wire story, Swoopes has denied that being gay was the reason for the breakup of her marriage. Though she certainly is the highest-profile team sport player to come out, she’s not the first such WNBA player; to the best of my knowledge, that would be former New York Liberty center Sue Wicks.
Comets coach Van Chancellor said he had been aware of Swoopes’ impending announcement for several days. He refused to comment or speculate about how the announcement might affect Swoopes’ future in the WNBA.
“I’ve coached Swoopes for nine years for the Houston Comets as well as with the (USA Basketball) national team,” Chancellor said. “What she does in her personal life is her own decision.
“I respect everything about Sheryl, how she’s handled herself on and off the court. To me, she will always be one of the greatest ambassadors for the game of women’s basketball and as a person has helped me win four (WNBA) championships and two gold medals.”
Speaking as a five-year Comets season-ticket holder, I predict Swoopes will get a big ovation the first time she steps on the court next year. The fans love her, and I just don’t see too many of them objecting to this. And yes, the gay and lesbian community of Houston makes up a sizeable portion of the Comets’ fan base. She’ll do just fine here.
An interesting question will be how her revelation will affect any endorsement deals she currently has.
She was named [NCAA] National Player of the Year [in 1993] and became the first female to have a basketball sneaker manufactured (by Nike) under her autograph.
The things that made Sheryl Swoopes attractive to advertisers before she came out are still true today: Great athlete, respected by all in the game, star-power personality, and good looking to boot. I don’t know what kind of endorsements she’s doing these days, but I’ll be very interested to see if any companies drop her. She’s apparently added at least one new deal, a lesbian cruise line (whose name makes me chuckle), according to Women’s Hoops.
Mechelle Voepel has a long and thoughtful piece about what Swoopes’ announcement may mean for other, currently closeted, athletes and coaches. The whole thing is worth your time to read, but I found this at the end to be especially poignant:
[T]here is the question of how Swoopes’ story will be received in Lubbock, Texas, home of Texas Tech and some of the most loyal and knowledgeable women’s basketball fans in the world. It’s just as dumb to suggest that everyone in Lubbock has a problem with homosexuality as it is to say that everyone in New York City has no problem with it. However, Lubbock is a place one would describe as conservative, to use, admittedly, a stereotype.
Swoopes is a legend in Lubbock more than anywhere else; she brought the university national recognition and always will be one of the most important people in the school’s history. Texas Tech fans genuinely love her, though some will feel very conflicted about her story.
But I think most of them, even if they don’t understand or totally accept Swoopes’ story, are people who believe we should live and let live. They might still vote for any and all measures to ban gay marriage, but they’d give Swoopes a sincere hug if they saw her.
I’ve got no business turning Sheryl Swoopes into a rallying point for a political movement. I do hope, however, that a few of the people who love her for what she did for Texas Tech in 1993 will be thinking about her as they step into the voting booth next month.