Published on Thursday, November 10, 2005 by the Miami Herald
Sheryl Swoopes: A Courageous Announcement
Basketball superstar Sheryl Swoopes should be applauded for announcing that she's gay. Her courage challenges the homophobic culture of sports.
Swoopes is a three-time Olympic champion, a four-time world champion with the WNBA's Houston Comets and the league's reigning Most Valuable Player. She is highly marketed among women athletes, but her achievements and glossy image don't tell the whole story.
''I'm tired of being miserable,'' Swoopes told ESPN, The Magazine. ``Not being free to be who I am, not being OK with other people knowing who I am -- it has been miserable. And it hurts. I'm sure life is not going to be easier for me just because I'm coming out. But at least I'll be free.''
Her an nouncement is historic. She is still an active professional player and the biggest name to come out of the sports closet since Martina Navratilova. Swoopes is also the first major black sports figure to do so.
Unfortunately, many lesbian athletes and coaches are still locked in the closet, which is where many in the sports world want them to stay.
Earlier this year, Jennifer Harris, a former member of the Penn State women's basketball team, accused the Lady Lions coach Rene Portland of dismissing her from the team because of anti-gay discrimination. Portland has long been rumored to use an anti-lesbian policy as a recruiting device to soothe worried parents and attract homophobic student athletes. Ironically, in spite of what Portland may have perceived, Harris isn't gay.
Mary Stephens, a girls' basketball coach in Bloomsburg, Texas, believes the local school board dismissed her because she's a lesbian. She eventually won an out-of-court settlement.
On one hand, women's sports teams are happy for the ticket sales and other financial support received from their lesbian and gay fans, but on the other hand, when it comes to marketing, they fear lesbians are a turn-off to potential male supporters and are questionable role models for young fans.
''My biggest concern is that people are going to look at my homosexuality and say to little girls -- whether they're white, black, Hispanic -- that I can't be their role model anymore,'' Swoopes told ESPN. ``I don't want that to happen. Being gay has nothing to do with the three gold medals or the three MVPs or the four championships I've won. I'm still the same person. I'm still Sheryl.''
Swoopes made this essential point: ''Sexuality and gender don't change anyone's performance on the court,'' she told the magazine.
Unfortunately, her drive for equality may not be appreciated until our culture learns to value female athletes for their skills and accomplishments more than for their value as sexual objects.
Andrea Lewis wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues.
© 2005 Miami Herald