(This story was published in 2002)
Déric Peterson, the 2001 U.S. 800 meters indoor champion, becomes a very rare individual in July’s issue of Genre magazine: an out professional athlete.
Having spent much of the last few years in college at the University of Missouri, and now running track professionally with a sponsorship deal from adidas, Peterson takes the plunge that few before him have been willing, or courageous enough, to take.
What makes him more rare is that he is now an out black professional athlete. One can’t find any other active American black pro athlete to ever come out in the media. This helps explain Peterson’s hesitation, even after making the commitment to the magazine to come out.
While in Los Angeles for an interview and photo shoot for the magazine, he started to get cold feet. Another trailblazer, Coach Eric “Gumby” Anderson, who also wrote the article for Genre, showed him an article from Outsports by Randy Boyd asking, “When will black athletes come out?”
“In that Boyd article,” Anderson says, “one of the athletes said, ‘I’m far from homosexual,’ and that whole attitude is what inspired Déric to say, ‘Well I’m far from heterosexual.’” Peterson’s feeling was that, if guys had a problem with potentially being labeled gay, he had a problem with potentially being labeled straight. That athlete Boyd quoted was Magic Johnson.
Last month, with the debate about whether a professional athlete could come out, many detractors cited the probability of loss of endorsement deals as a big factor to stay in the closet. Peterson’s coming out is poking a hole in that argument. What is possibly most important about Peterson’s coming out is that he is doing so with no resistance from adidas. While Peterson’s representative at Adidas declined to comment for the Genre article, they also are not protesting it, and have offered him words of encouragement.
"I called Adidas and told them that I was thinking of doing this story, and coming out publicly,” Peterson told Genre. “They said, ‘Great, that's not a problem at all.’”
Peterson is taking the plunge despite how much he relies on adidas. This is not an athlete who already makes several million dollars from a pro sports contract worrying about losing several other million dollars in endorsements; this is an athlete putting his livelihood on the line. It is also a major athletic company stepping up to the plate and supporting their athlete.
“The support Déric has received suggests,” the Genre article says, “that perhaps the fear that professional team sport athletes have of losing their sponsorships may be unfounded."