Swoopes Comes Out: Reactions Roundup

(This story was published in 2005).

Basketball star Sheryl Swoopes, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time MVP of the WNBA, has come out publicly as a lesbian, making her the highest-profile team sport athlete to come out while playing.

Here is what other media outlets and blogs are saying about it:

King Kaufman, Salon.com:

But the WNBA is big enough, and Swoopes was well-enough known, that the reaction to her as-told-to story in ESPN the Magazine could have been a lot stronger, and a lot more negative. That's the best thing. This wasn't a big deal partly because the WNBA isn't a big deal, but partly because a star female athlete coming out really isn't that big a deal.

Mark Morford, San Francisco Gate:

So then, for the big three 'Murkin sports alone and not including hockey or soccer or water sports and not including minor league baseball or college hoops or college football (all of which are also, of course, enormous hotbeds of homoerotic heat and which would add another few thousand to the total, but let's stay national here) we're looking at a grand total of well over 2,500 pro male athletes, all sharing locker rooms and showers and sweat and intimate moments and you really want to sit there and tell me at least a dozen of these guys aren't right now closeted homosexual? Bisexual? Something? Please. Get over it.

Ian O'Connor, Fox Sports:

The more major sports leagues educate their players on this issue, the more likely it is that a gay athlete will emerge from the closet as eagerly as Jackie Robinson pushed through the Dodgers' clubhouse door.

It will be a great day in sports, in all of America, when that male pioneer steps forward the way Robinson did more than 58 years ago, the way Swoopes did last week. But that day won't arrive until a gay man can be assured he won't be ostracized by members of his own organization, never mind opponents and fans.

Closeted Division I-A sports administrator:

"I and every other gay guy in sports live every day with the fact that it's OK to be a lesbian in sports but not a gay guy. It hurts like hell and is life-altering and causes you to live with fear. God knows how many hundreds and thousands of gay men in the NBA and NFL and at Nebraska and Texas and in high schools and peewee football through the years have gone through denial and hell and even killed themselves because if they're themselves they will be ridiculed, shunned, shut out, beat up and called fags. We gotta be in the closet and they don't, and she comes out with THIS quote and is a hero all of a sudden?"

Pat Forde, ESPN.com:

Statistically speaking, there are a handful of gay men on every Division I-A college football team. There are undoubtedly gay men in every other team sport, as well. But the stigma attached to being a gay jock as opposed to a lesbian jock is overwhelming.

Mike Camunas, The University of South Florida Oracle:

In a sense, you want to congratulate this woman — this woman who once was married and has a child — for finding out who she is and what she wants. She took the egotism that can come with sports stardom and used it to her advantage. She did this for nobody but herself, and you should applaud her for it. But perhaps the bravery and the courage will only go so far, because it seems that it’s easier for prominent women in sports to out themselves without the fear of ridicule and persecution from teammates or fans. They’ve been doing it for years already.

Nancy Goldstein, The Raw Story:

Swoopes came out exactly like she plays: with strength, skill, and integrity. Her myth-busting story is unmarred by apology or pathology. No, she isn’t trying to be a hero or rub it in people’s faces: she’s just “tired of having to hide my feelings about the person I care about.” No, she doesn’t think she was born this way; and no, this isn’t why her marriage ended a few years after the birth of her son (now eight).

David Hall, Kinston, N.C., Free Press:

The canned PC response to Swoopes' announcement is: "Who cares? What an athlete does in her private life is none of our business."

But the issue runs deeper. People need to be allowed to be themselves, even if it's not unanimously approved.

When an active male athlete makes the announcement - and it will happen - the results will be the same. People will talk for a while, the guy will sort things out with his teammates and the world will keep right on turning.

John Levesque, Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Surely we can move on now. Surely there are no other gay people in professional sports. Our culture doesn't permit it.

After all, male athletes fear being linked to homosexuality more than they fear being released from their teams because it would make them seem weak, effeminate and different. Female athletes fear being linked to homosexuality more than they fear a repeal of Title IX because it would make them seem to be conforming to an unpopular stereotype.

Clearly, Swoopes must be unique. She must have swooped in under the radar because she used to be married to a guy. As the WNBA was starting up eight years ago, she was even pictured as being in the family way.

Donna Goodison, Boston Herald:

WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes' announcement Wednesday that she's a lesbian could make her more appealing to companies hoping to increase their profile among both gay and heterosexual consumers, sports marketing experts say.

Tom Collen, head women's basketball coach, University of Louisville:

“Maybe it’s an opportunity that she stepped up and came out of the closet, maybe it’ll relieve pressure of some other young ladies that want to be able to be themselves,” Collen said.

“It’s the world we live in. We’re hopefully in a gentler, more understanding, progressive society. I don’t think we should have to shield things from the media or other people. I don’t see negatives at all. Just positives.”

Mark Purdy, San Jose Mercury News:

When the news about Sheryl Swoopes broke Wednesday, the most heartening reaction was the lack of much reaction.

In 2005, this should be construed as healthy. After the most valuable player of the Women's NBA announced she is gay, nobody either held a huge parade or condemned her. The only ripple of response was positive, giving Swoopes a pat on the back for being so forthright and unafraid.

Steven A. Smith, Philadelphia Enquirer:

Now, far be it for me to wax eloquent over the sanctimonious arena of professional ethics. But if someone - anyone - even thinks of hiring Scott after Swoopes' coming-out party, an investigation should begin. Immediately.

It's one thing if Swoopes were representing a team different from Scott's. It would be an entirely different situation if both were players. But Scott was an assistant coach on Van Chancellor's staff for the Houston Comets, supposedly a liaison between the head coach and the players, in a position of authority and influence.

Mark Kreidler, Sacramento Bee:

I'm not sure you'd call what happened Wednesday progress, but it certainly stood as a development on any number of levels.

What it did not constitute was a pioneering breakthrough - although, to hear some of the noise surrounding WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes' public declaration that she's gay, one might be tempted to conclude Swoopes is the first athlete in a team sport to come out (she's not), or the first really successful athlete to so announce (she's not).

Dawn Staley, head women's basketball coach, Temple University:

"For the people who know Sheryl, the people that she talks to, she has already confided in them. Now she is just being truthful and honest. It is a personal choice, but not a revelation for those of us who know her."

Kelli Anderson, CNNSI.com:

Will Swoopes's revelation help chip away at the homophobia that is rampant in some locker rooms and fuels much of the negative recruiting that goes on in women's sports? Let's hope that at the very least it generates discussion of a topic that remains taboo in a lot of precincts.

Tom Reed, Akron Beacon Journal:

Don't expect Swoopes' statement to lead to a slew of other gay athletes following suit.

There is a very real stigma attached to being gay in sports, particularly in men's athletics. Locker rooms are bastions of testosterone and heterosexual male bonding. Athletes are willing to welcome back convicted felons, substance abusers and performance-enhancing cheats into the fold.

But openly gay male athletes? We don't know, because no one of professional significance has stepped forward.

John Ryan, San Jose Mercury News:

Let's face it: On the list of shocking headlines, ``WNBA player is gay'' falls somewhere between ``Romo took steroids'' and ``Steinbrenner is angry.'' In her ESPN piece, Swoopes (if unintentionally) reinforced one perception of her league when she wrote, ``The talk about the WNBA being full of lesbians is not true. I mean, there are as many straight women in the league as there are gay.'' About a 50-50 split, in other words. So teammates and coaches can be counted on to be more welcoming than in the NFL, NBA or baseball. So can the road crowds.

Marsha Sharpe, Texas Tech women's basketball coach:

"Certainly, Sheryl Swoopes is a very important part of the Lady Raider basketball family. The things she has meant to this program and our history are unchallenged and are very important to all of us and everybody out here has a lot of respect for that, and there's not anything that should or will ever change that."

Jemele Hill, Orlando Sentinel:

But quite frankly, a gay WNBA player - even if she was last season's MVP and a three-time Olympic gold medalist - isn't exactly a tabloid headline. Not in a league with a strong, lesbian fan base. Not in a league where teams have gay-pride nights. Not in a league that has other openly gay players such as Minnesota Lynx center Michele Van Gorp.

Wally Matthews, Newsday:

Clearly, we weren't ready then and we probably aren't ready now. It is one thing for Swoopes to come out -- she plays in a league, remember, in which fans at Madison Square Garden once staged a "kiss-off" in the stands to protest perceived mistreatment of the Liberty's sizable lesbian fan base -- and quite another if it had been, say, LeBron James.

Brian Davis, Dallas Morning News:

Sheryl Swoopes' announcement that she was coming out of the closet shot through Houston's gay and lesbian community Wednesday like a comet. National women's groups hoped the news smashed more barriers in the process.

Jim Rome on Rome Is Burning, Oct. 26, 2005:

“First of all, I applaud her decision. It could not have been easy and it certainly was a courageous one. However, I think she’s off base when she says male athletes of her caliber may think they have a lot more to lose, but they don’t. Of course they do. A male athlete with her resume – three gold medals and a league MVP Award – say for instance an Allen Iverson or a Tim Duncan, a Shaq, a Kobe, a KG, any of these guys would have a lot more to lose. She is in a fringe professional sports league and is anything but a household name in this country. They have a lot more to lose because they have a lot more at stake. Bigger league. Bigger profile. Bigger dollars. Bigger backlash. Bigger ball. Bigger everything. Again, I’m not looking to diminish the announcement in any way. I applaud her decision. It is courageous. But she is wrong to say her male equivalents don’t have more to lose because, clearly, they do.”

Tony Kornheiser, ESPN’s Pardon The Interuption:

“What she’s done is pretty much her own business. I will say that it is somewhat surprising to most people because she had been famously married and had a child. But, it is also true that many people believe, they look at women professional athletes and they believe a significant percentage of them are homosexual and not heterosexual.”

Mike Wilbon, ESPN’s PTI:

“[The fact that no active male athletes have come out] speaks to, sadly, not just to sexuality, but in the case of male athletes, the case of little boys from the time they’re four, it speaks to masculinity and whether you have enough of it. I mean, that’s a cultural thing and people use it to batter young boys from the time they understand what it is.”

Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times, on Around the Horn:

“First off, good for Sheryl Swoopes. Any time somebody can be themselves, that’s a wonderful thing. But sadly, I don’t think it’s going to make much of an impact because, for whatever reason in this country, lesbians are viewed differently than gay men. There’s not the stigma against lesbianism that there is against gays and men. Especially in athletics.”

Jay Mariotti, Chicago Sun-Times, on Around the Horn:

“The female sports community. When you read her comments, she says flat-out, ‘I was miserable being in the closet. I’m not going to pretend I’m somebody I’m not.’ I think a lot of people are going to be inspired by this in women’s sports. And face it, we’re watching women’s sports more than ever. Women’s golf. Women’s tennis. I think you’re going to have a lot of athletes coming out in those sports. But men’s sports, no."

Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor, from the Houston Chronicle:

"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."

Sean Bugg, Metro Weekly:

WNBA player Sheryl Swoopes -- perfectly named for a basketball player -- poked her head out of the closet, like, yesterday, and she's already been signed by Olivia, the lesbian cruise company. I'm not complaining. In fact, more power to her. It's a nice change from those (not so) long-ago days when Billie Jean King was dropped by every sponsor she had when her sexuality went public. But my guess is we'll be waiting a lot longer for a lesbian to cash in like Maria Sharapova.

Mechelle Voepel, ESPN.com:

People will say, "Oh, why is it important? I don't care. What difference does it make? I don't have any problems with it. It's not an issue."

You really believe that? OK … did you gasp when you saw the Swoopes story? I'd guess you did. Why? Because it is a big deal, and we do need to keep talking about it.

Darren Rovell, ESPN.com:

Being an openly gay athlete 25 years ago might have been hindered appeal in business world, but times have changed. Those who identify themselves as gay annually spend $450 billion, according to Scarbrough Research, a marketplace tracking firm. Their research reveals that 27 percent of gay households have an average income exceeding $100,000 and 81 percent are more likely to purchase products that are perceived as gay-friendly.

"I would hope that Sheryl's marketability will remain intact," said sports agent Lon Babby. "Sheryl is one of the WNBA's top players and is an incredible ambassador for the league and for women's sports. I think the younger generation -- the highly coveted demographic -- is much more understanding and accepting of diversity and corporate America recognizes this."

The Advocate:

Asked whether she considers herself lesbian or bisexual, Swoopes says, "I just consider myself a person." She adds, "I don't consider myself bisexual," and says, "The relationship I'm in right now, I hope, is the relationship I'll be in for the rest of my life."

Deadspin.com:

Well, we’ve all been curious who the first high-profile athlete to announce that they’re gay would be, and now that Houston Comets MVP Sheryl Swoopes has done it, well, we guess we’re still kind of waiting. No offense to Swoopes, of course, who is one of the best players in WNBA history and actually has a Nike shoe named after her, but, well, as far as “high-profile” goes, she’s still just one of the best players in WNBA history.

Gwen Knapp, San Francisco Chronicle:

Swoopes is the most famous athlete in a team sport ever to reveal her homosexuality while still active. Two former WNBA players, Sue Wicks and Michele Van Gorp, came out of the closet during their careers, but neither has Swoopes' profile.

Andy Towle, Towleroad.com:

Congratulations Sheryl. The truth has set you free.

Rod Online:

Swoopes' decision is monumental for the sport and black gays, especially since she’s still at the top of her game—leading the WNBA in 2005 in points scored per game and minutes played among other categories.

Queerty.com:

Big shock.

61.3% of ESPN.com readers polled:

Is this a big story? Yes -- Like it or not, sports are one place where people of disparate opinions are forced to come together.

Other ESPN.com readers:

Miranda (Bismarck, ND): It doesn't change the person or player that she is. That is her personal life, and we shouldn't judge anyone by who they love or care about.

Austin: I think it is unfortunate this is even a story. Who cares if she is gay or straight? I would have to agree with her comment that the male athletes have more to lose. It is ridiculous in this day in age that this stuff needs to be announced, given attention to, etc.

Michael from Mobile: You people call his woman a hero? That's what's wrong with this country. What is WRONG is made right, and what is right is demonized as being mean spirited or in this case a homophobe. And we wonder why God is punishing this nation.

The Malcontent:

It is extremely, unfathomably rare for a star athlete in team sports to come out while he or she is still actually playing the game. Which is why Sheryl Swoopes' courageous announcement is so significant.

The Sports Frog:

I'm glad Swoopes is able to come out of the closet. Nobody should have to hide their sexual preference, not athletes, not anybody. That said this is hardly a shocker: There are lesbians in all communities, why should a basketball team be any different.

Pam Spaulding:

I hope to live long enough to see a gay man in team sports come out while still playing. That will be a milestone.

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