Players, Coaches and the Media React to John Amaechi Coming Out

Jim Rogash

Some of the biggest names in the NBA talk about John Amaechi being gay

Compiled by Cyd Zeigler and Jim Buzinski, Feb. 2007

Below is a compilation of reactions to the revelation that former NBA player John Amaechi is coming out of the closet. Some of the people are reacting directly to Amaechi's coming out and others are reacting to the general idea of having an openly gay professional athlete.

Thanks to our readers and bloggers, including Towleroad, who have been helping stay on top of this growing list.

Discuss: John Amaechi's coming out

Basketball players and sports leaders

Shaquille O'Neal, Miami Heat player
Palm Beach Post
"I was always taught as a youngster to never judge people, so I never judge people and to each their own. If he was my teammate and people ridiculed him and jumped on him, I would probably have to protect him."

Dwayne Wade, Miami Heat player
Palm Beach Post
"Anybody who knows me knows I'm a guy who loves his teammates and if anything ever comes up like that, I don't look at that. I look at what guys can do for you on the court. And in the locker room you have great relationships with guys. I don't have any negative views."

Darrell Armstrong, former Amaechi teammate
Indianapolis Star
It's always unfair to judge anyone, to be honest with you, unless it's something going on with you and that person. If you hate somebody, keep it to yourself, especially in that state of mind. . . . I don't understand why other people get so offended by it. I could understand if John Amaechi came on to him or something."

Mike Miller, former Amaechi teammate
Palm Beach Post
On Amaechi: "He's a great person. Everyone has the right to be how they want be."
On a gay NBA player: "It would be difficult, but at the same time our league is a league that has taken on anything. We bring on and accept anything, and I think that's what's special about the NBA."

Scottie Pippen, former NBA player
Palm Beach Post
On Hardaway's comments: "It was pretty shocking," former star Scottie Pippen said. "You hate to see that happen to one of your colleagues knowing the damage he's caused to himself, his family and friends ... I'm very disappointed it happened."

Jason Kapono, Miami Heat player
Palm Beach Post
On Hardaway's comments: "Everyone has their own views on life, and that's something that's obviously his point of view, but that's definitely not the point of view of all the rest of us."

Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"From a marketing perspective, if you're a player who happens to be gay and you want to be incredibly rich, then you should come out, because it would be the best thing that ever happened to you from a marketing and an endorsement perspective. You would be an absolute hero to more Americans than you can ever possibly be as an athlete, and that'll put money in your pocket. On the flip side, if you're the idiot who condemns somebody because they're gay, then you're going to be ostracized, you're going to be picketed and you're going to ruin whatever marketing endorsements you have."

"When you do something that the whole world thinks is difficult and you stand up and just be who you are and take on that difficulty factor, you're an American hero no matter what," Cuban said. "That's what the American spirit's all about, going against the grain and standing up for who you are, even if it's not a popular position."

Earl Watson, Seattle Supersonics player
Seattle Times
"In our society, religion, politics and race have been the big topics and now sexuality is up there and for some guys, they're educated on the subjects, but in honesty most guys don't think about these things on a daily basis," Sonics guard Earl Watson said. "And that's true for most people, not just [basketball players].

"Most guys will tell you that they just want to win games and anybody who can help them do that is cool. I don't really care what guys do off the court. That's the same thing with anybody. Whatever they do in their personal life, you just want respect from anyone. It could be from someone who's straight, gay or whatever."

Sam Mitchell, Toronto Raptors head coach
Toronto Sun
"It shouldn't be about tolerance, it should be about respect. Treating people as human beings. Are you supposed to tolerate me because I'm black or are they supposed to treat me with respect because I'm a human being?"

Chris Chelios, NHL player
Detroit Free Press
"I don't consider it any issue at all. As far as I'm concerned, it's a non-issue. I don't care if a guy comes out and says he's not gay or he comes and says he's gay. Who cares? I don't know who made that an issue."

Henrik Zetterberg, NHL player
Detroit Free Press
"I've probably played with a gay guy during some point in my career, but I didn't know about it. I think that if you are gay, you would probably keep it to yourself until you stop playing. I think in games and such, I think they would be on him a lot. Unfortunately right now, I don't think you can play when you're (openly) gay. But they have the right to play hockey, too."


ESPN's Outside the Lines (via Towleroad)

Peter Magowan, San Francisco Giants owner
Sacramento Bee
"It would not bother me if one of my players came out of the closet. He would get my support.

"I'm speaking for myself. I can't tell you (my) view that I have would be the democratic majority (in the Giants' clubhouse). I doubt that it would.

"I'm sure that's why people don't come out of the closet. But as a society, we're moving toward where people won't be as scared."

Larry Bowa, former Philadelphia Phillies manager
Jim Litke column
"All I know is that if he hits .340, it probably would be easier than if he hits .220."

Jerry Sloan, Utah Jazz coach
Associated Press
"Oh yeah, it would have probably mattered. I don't know exactly, but I always have peoples' feelings at heart. People do what they want to do. I don't have a problem with that."

In another statement, Sloan said: "John is 1 of 117 players I have coached in the past 19 seasons, and it has always been my philosophy that my job is to make sure Jazz players perform to the maximum of their abilities on the floor. As far as his personal life is concerned, I wish John the best and have no further comment."

Doc Rivers, Boston Celtics coach who coached Amaechi in Orlando
Associated Press
"We're all insensitive at times. There's no taboo subject in the locker room. I think if he would have come out they would have got on him jokingly. ... And I actually think that when guys do come out, when that day happens, it will make it easier. ... [Amaechi]'s better than a good kid; he's a fantastic kid. John Amaechi, when I was coaching him, was a great kid. He did as much charity work as anybody in our city, and he's still doing it. That's what I wish we focused on. Unfortunately, we're talking about his sexual orientation, which I couldn't care a flying flip about."

Isiah Thomas, New York Knicks coach
Newark Star-Ledger and Newsday
"If [there was an openly gay player] in my locker room, we won't have a problem with it. I can't speak for somebody else's locker room, but if it's in mine, we won't have a problem. I'll make damn sure there's no problem.

"I think [an openly gay player] will and I think he should [be accepted.] We're a diverse society and we preach acceptance. We're proud of diversity and no matter what your sexual preference may be, there is an acceptance and a tolerance level that should be accepted everywhere. No one should be excluded."

Jamal Crawford, New York Knicks
Newark Star-Ledger
He said the players' professionalism should overcome any hesitance about playing with or against an openly gay player, but acknowledged it might be "awkward."

"I don't know how people would accept it," Crawford said. "It would probably be a little awkward, I'm sure. Because most people have girlfriends, wives, whatever. But we're all professionals and have a job to do."

Eddie Curry, New York Knicks center
Newsday
"If one of my teammates came out and said that, I'd be supportive of him because those are my teammates. Those are the guys I went to war with night in and night out. Regardless of what he does off the court, we battle together."

Michael Doleac, Miami Heat center and former teammate of Amaechi's in Orlando
Palm Beach Post
"If that's who he is, good for him. John was a smart guy, a great guy, a fun guy."

Eddie Jones, Miami Heat guard
Palm Beach Post
"Guys would probably stay away from him," Jones said when asked what would have happened had Amaechi come out while playing.

Troy Hudson, Minnesota Timberwolves player and former teammate of Amaechi
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"I just knew him as a teammate. He was a cool guy. I didn't expect that [announcement]. He kept it pretty hush-hush.

"That's his own personal preference. So you can't fault a man for who they are or what they are. It's probably a good thing for himself that he finally opened up. He's probably been going through a lot trying to keep it a secret."

Would Amaechi have been accepted? "Probably not," Hudson said. "The majority of people in pro sports -- I mean, in the world -- don't feel comfortable with that type of person around. Especially in a masculine sport where you're always touching each other, you have to take showers together. But the way I see it, if you keep it to yourself, I don't care what you are."

Tracy McGrady, Houston Rockets player who played with Amaechi in Orlando
ESPN.com
"I"m the type of dude who don't give a f---. I don't care what you are as long as you're doing what you're supposed to be doing on the court. You could be the most flaming (guy) on earth and answer to boyfriend and kiss him after the game as long as you don't try it with me. I just want to win. And that's how I am. To each his own, be yourself, and be proud of it. Everything else is just a bunch of crap."

Pete Lisicky, former Penn State player
Harrisburg Patriot-News
"I never felt uncomfortable with John. We'd all go out together. John would talk to guys and girls, socializing with everybody. It never crossed my mind. I'll say this: Of all the teammates I've had over the years, he's in the top five. Articulate, caring, and not just because I was a guy; he was like that with everyone. If you needed anything, he was there. But I'm not a big Bible thumper. I'm not one of these people who say [homosexuality] is immoral or whatever."

Grant Hill, Orlando Magic player
Associated Press
"The fact that John has done this, maybe it will give others the comfort or confidence to come out as well, whether they are playing or retiring."

David Stern, NBA Commissioner
Associated Press
"We have a very diverse league. The question at the NBA is always 'Have you got game?' That's it, end of inquiry."

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers player
Associated Press
"With teammates you have to be trustworthy, and if you're gay and you're not admitting that you are, then you are not trustworthy So that's like the No. 1 thing as teammates - we all trust each other. You've heard of the in-room, locker room code. What happens in the locker room stays in there. It's a trust factor, honestly. A big trust factor."

Ed Heintschel, St. John's High School Coach, who coach Amaechi for one year
Toledo Blade
"That's John's lifestyle choice. I respect his personal choice. He was an outstanding student athlete and was a bright guy. ... Everywhere he's been as a professional athlete he's done a lot in the community. He's a great person."

Shavlik Randolph, Philadelphia 76ers player
Associated Press
"As long as you don't bring your gayness on me I'm fine. As far as business-wise, I'm sure I could play with him. But I think it would create a little awkwardness in the locker room."

Steven Hunter, Philadelphia 76ers player
Associated Press
"For real? He's gay for real? Nowadays it's proven that people can live double lives. I watch a lot of TV, so I see a lot of sick perverted stuff about married men running around with gay guys and all types of foolishness. ... As long as he don't make any advances toward me I'm fine with it. As long as he came to play basketball like a man and conducted himself like a good person, I'd be fine with it.

Pat Garrity, Orlando Magic player
Associated Press
"They would have teammates that would accept them for being a good person and a good teammate, and there would be people who would give him a hard time about it. I think that's true if you're playing basketball or in an office job. That's just how the world is right now.''

Greg Aiello, NFL spokesman
Jim Litke column, Associated Press
"Society is more open and tolerant than it's ever been. I don't think anybody would care, other than how he was performing."

Aiello was asked whether he could imagine a football player coming out any time soon. "I'm sure it will happen someday," he said. "I don't see why not."

Anonymous sports voices

Philadelphia Flyers player
Phillyburbs.com
"Personally, I would have no problem with it. Some others might but I think most wouldn't. ... We're not to that [point of acceptance] point yet. You still hear racial stuff out there from time to time (among players and from the stands).' ... It all depends on the person's personality. Does he want to be a poster boy for the cause?"

Gay leaders

Martina Navratilova, tennis great
Associated Press
"It's hugely important for the kids so they don't feel alone in the world. We're role models. He will definitely help a lot of kids growing up to feel better about themselves.''

Esera Tuaolo, former NFL player
Associated Press
"What John did is amazing. He does not know how many lives he's saved by speaking the truth. ... Living with all that stress and that depression, all you deal with as a closeted person, when you come out you really truly free yourself," Tuaolo said. "When I came out it felt like I was getting out of prison."

Billy Bean, former Major League Baseball player
ABC News
"I think that's great to see images of strong people who succeeded like John Amaechi and this, this coming out wasn't shrouded in controversy. It wasn't forced. He didn't do something bad."

Eric Anderson, author and former high school running coach
ABC News
"They're still afraid of residual homophobia. They are still afraid of losing contracts and sponsorships in some team sport. But the reality is, when all athletes come out of the closet, in all sports, at all levels, these things don't materialize."l

Charles Kaiser, author
Sacramento Bee
"We're still waiting for our Jackie Robinson. He has to be a star player and have a lot of guts. A second-string player is, by definition, more reluctant."

The Media

Jeff Miller, Orange County Register
"The reaction here today is the same reaction I had five years ago:

"Good for John Amaechi, and what's the big deal with the rest of us anyway?

"For a society that loves to celebrate its remarkable progress, we remain pathetically stalled in yesterday in so many ways. The fact this story was received by many like a space alien would be at 7-Eleven says way too much.

Michael Wilbon. Washington Post columnist
"A lot will be made over the comments of LeBron James, who is quoted as saying: 'With teammates you have to be trustworthy, and if you're gay and you're not admitting that you are, then you are not trustworthy. So that's like the number one thing as teammates . . . we all trust each other. You've heard of the in-room locker room code. What happens in the locker room stays there. It's a trust factor.'

"My first reaction to LeBron's ramblings is that the person who needs to feel the trust is the person in the room who feels he's at risk by talking openly of something that's been taboo in locker rooms since the beginning of time. Then again, James, because of who he is, is asked most every day about anything and everything NBA-related. ...

"Not to be too cynical, I don't want to pay too much attention to reactions from a 22-year-old ballplayer with incredibly limited exposure, whose life has been little more than a series of tip-offs from biddy ball to AAU to high school to the pros. LeBron's reaction simply reflects the self-absorption of the day when it comes to young athletic gods whose transition from boyhood to manhood is in too many cases put off until retirement from the pros.

"If we're lucky, the men and women who are both enlightened and emboldened will not only be supportive but will drown out the knuckleheads and Neanderthals and everybody who wants to slow the march of progress. Even one step away from tolerance, whether we're talking about race, gender, religious beliefs or sexuality, simply slows the march to the day when none of this stuff matters."

Jim Litke, Associated Press columnist
"Thousands of ball players have worked, traveled, showered and dressed in the same locker room together for more than a century. Most understand now it's a numbers game."

David Steele, Baltimore Sun
"The first active athlete to announce himself as gay -- and it would have to be an "announcement," which, for obvious reasons, [Jackie] Robinson didn't have to do -- will have to go through an initiation different from Robinson's, but surely just as brutal. The prejudices against homosexuality in the major sports are deeply ingrained. Just as gay rights leaders have followed the old civil rights playbook almost page by page, this pioneer will have to work from Robinson's playbook, and subs for the roles of Rickey, Pee Wee Reese and all the heroes and villains will have to step up."

LZ Granderson, ESPN.com
"I do not mean to belittle Amaechi's experience or the experiences of any other athlete who comes out after retirement. I am friends with gay, former pro athletes and look forward to reading Amaechi's book (to be published by ESPN Books). But I can't help but wonder: When will somebody simply man up? That is, come out while he is still playing and finally demystify this whole gay athlete thing once and for all."

Brian Schmitz, Orlando Sentinal
"Without a doubt, he's one of the most refreshing athletes I've ever been around. He actually read books."

Matthew Sayed, The Times (London)
"John Amaechi is a combative, articulate and intellectually inquisitive firebrand whose courageous decision to come out marks a watershed in the painfully slow process of enlightenment in professional sport."

Steve Luhm, Salt Lake Tribune columnist
"Let's be clear about one thing.

This isn't about John Amaechi's sexual orientation or his decision to write about being a gay man in the NBA in a soon-to-be-released book. This is about John Amaechi, basketball player with the Utah Jazz from 2001-03. Because it is, there's little to tell.

That's because John Amaechi remains one of the worst players in franchise history.
I'm not Amaechi-bashing here.

I'm just stating a fact."

Mark Morford, San Francisco Chronicle
"The modern psychosexual threshold demarcating where we as a homophobic sports-lovin' culture simply refuse to allow ourselves to go, given how pro sports is a multi-gazillion-dollar industry and no way in hell male sports fans (or team owners or sponsors) would stand for a gay sports hero. No. Freaking. Way. If it happened, there would be fear and hate and mistrust. Other players would shun and recoil and cry. Sponsors would flee. Alabama would implode. The red states would spontaneously combust. Just the way it is.

"Sure, WNBA MVP and three-time Olympian Sheryl Swoopes can come out and admit she's a lesbian and no one really gasps all that loudly because, well, it's the WNBA, and she's a woman, and it wasn't much of a secret anyway and -- perhaps the biggest reason of all that her coming-out story is a nonstarter -- it's not about manhood."

David Brown, Northwest (Chicago) Herald
"It's always a big deal to make such an announcement. At least in your own corner of the world. It takes a good amount of bravery. As Martina Navratilova put it, somewhere, there's a gay teenager who read about Amaechi and was given more confidence to be him or herself. That's good, too."

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