Secret Life of the Gay American Basketball Player

03.22.10 9 years ago 111 Comments

Some of the people who know me best claim I’m homophobic.

I’d disagree, but I see where they get that idea. I can admit, I’ve made my share of off-color jokes and offensive comments, but my stance on homosexuality has been the same for awhile: If you’re a guy who’s attracted to guys, or a girl attracted to girls, OK. Do you. Doesn’t matter to me. I can’t say I’m this completely evolved and 100 percent politically correct person, but I’d at least like to think I’ve matured since my days being in the high school football locker room and saying things high school kids say when it comes to that issue.

Homosexuality in sports is still taboo, even long after we’ve broken the silence on drugs, infidelity, violence towards women, steroids, deadbeat dads, and every other salacious story that crawls across the daily ticker. We still don’t talk about (at least not seriously) gays in sports, especially when it comes to male athletes. Mainly because except for a figure skater here and there, nobody comes out of the closet. Three years after retired NBA player John Amaechi went public, we still haven’t an active pro basketball player follow his lead, although the numbers (and the rumors I’ve heard just from being in this industry a few years) indicate there has to be at least a handful of gay players in the League.

The NBA itself has a complicated, unstable relationship with the homosexual community. While the WNBA is undeniably gay-friendly — I’ve been to a few Seattle Storm games and the place is full of obviously lesbian couples — it’s like the league still doesn’t want to openly admit and advertise it. There have been small controversies stemming from WNBA arenas either not doing the traditional “Kiss Cam” that you see in every NBA arena, or ignoring couples on the Kiss Cam who might be gay or lesbian. And even after superstar Sheryl Swoopes outed herself as lesbian in 2005, it hasn’t appeared to have a significant impact on the league in its marketing or with other players coming out.

The NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and Golden State Warriors have had Gay Community Night promotions this month. On March 1 against Orlando, the Sixers had about 100 tickets at $20 a pop set aside for gay community members. The team had done a similar promotion four years ago before bringing it back this year.

“(NBA teams) try to market themselves to all different types of groups, people of different religious affiliations or nationalities,” Matt Oldsey of Comcast Spectator’s Event Services, who helped put on the 76ers promotion, told the Philadelphia Gay News. “It’s a good practice to market yourself to every group and every type of person, and I felt like there’s definitely room to include Philadelphia’s gay community; no group should be singled out or not included, because our products can be enjoyed by all types of people.”

At the same time, it’s highly likely that in a league struggling to make money — especially a Lottery team like the Sixers that just saw its biggest box-office draw, Allen Iverson, leave for the rest of the season — franchises will do anything to sell tickets, even if the higher-ups have a fundamental problem with the group of fans being targeted. NBA teams have events like Jewish Heritage Night and U.S. Armed Forces Night, for instance, and the League as a whole has the “Noche Latino” extended promotion to draw in fans from the country’s largest-growing ethnic group. But do we know for sure that none of those owners and front-office suits have negative feelings toward Jews, Latinos, or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Just because some teams have extended a hand to the gay community, it doesn’t mean everyone sees a place in the game for them.

So where exactly does homosexuality fit within the inner circles of the NBA, and basketball in general?

A couple years ago, I ran across a show on the LOGO network (TV aimed at the gay community) called “Shirts & Skins,” a reality show following an all-gay basketball team in San Francisco. I only watched a couple of episodes — during which Amaechi and Swoopes made guest appearances — and the one thing you couldn’t deny was that the guys on this semi-pro level team could play. It’s not like their style of ball was any different. And some the players had legit credentials: DeMarco Majors (far left) played at D-III Menlo College and in the ABA. Mike Survillion (far right) also had a brief stint in the ABA.

“Shirts & Skins” ran for one season and wasn’t picked up for a second. Was it because it didn’t appeal to enough sports fans? Was it proof of the stereotype that gays aren’t very interested in sports? Was the show just not good enough to survive? Was it only supposed to be a one-season deal? I’m not sure.

But I do know there was no way the show would be bringing in an active NBA player for an appearance. If one had even popped up randomly in the background because he happened to be in the same public gym, I would imagine that player’s agent would take the steps to have that footage buried, or have his client’s face blurred. Because more than anything, athletes today who are guy don’t come out of the closet for the same reason athletes don’t take political or socio-economic stances — because it’s too risky from a business standpoint.

Thanks to the anonymity of the Internet, however, there is one gay ballplayer we know of. In Playing Basketball From The Closet, an unidentified American who plays pro ball somewhere overseas — who goes only by the moniker “Baller” — has been blogging about his life as a closeted athlete since December 2009. In one post, he talks about how his homosexuality affects his game on the court:

I always have the tendency to be very harsh with myself, I can finish a day with 17 points and 6-9 from the field and I will only remember the 3 missed shots and try to think why I missed them and that I could have done better, and that’s usually the feeling I go with, it’s rear that I will sit down and say to myself great job and will be thinking about those 6 makes.

In some way I think it does have something to do with me being gay, maybe it’s making a complicated situation easy by saying it like this, but I think that since like most guys who fight with their sexuality I felt bad for the most part of my childhood and youth. I tried to reject the thoughts and the emotions, since being gay is “wrong, not normal” and I can go on and on.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that going around feeling bad about myself since I’m different might explain why I only look on the bad things, those things that I grow up feeling and grow up thinking about, maybe in some way I need those feelings to give me the “approval” that I’m still different and not as good as the others cause I’m gay.

I know it’s not a matter of black and white, and I can happily say that I feel much better about myself than I used to, but I guess it’s not a completed process. Maybe somewhere it’s the homophobic side of me, a side that was always there but was developed by being in locker rooms and around guys that are usually homophobic and have tendency to make gays to be less man, not worthy and for sure not equal to all the rest.

I still see myself as work in progress, I can really say that I feel good with my career and the direction it’s going, and even though every game worries me all over and I’m never sure my ability will surface Things are going good. I do sometimes start to think if my issues with myself and my sexual preferences don’t prevent me from reaching my full potential, but this is something for another post.

In college, I had a few classes with an older female student who used to play college basketball in the South. One time she speculated that “at least half” of female ballplayers on the college/pro level were lesbian. I doubt many hoop fans would be surprised to find that true, but when it comes to male basketball players, the numbers are presumably lower.

And yet this much we do know: Going by the odds alone, the thoughts expressed by “Baller” are the exact thoughts running through the minds of at least one and maybe 100 NBA players. I’ve heard (unconfirmed) that reportedly one in every 15 American men identifies as gay, so you do the math: Your favorite player, maybe the All-Star you voted for, maybe the certified superstar whose sneakers you’re wearing, maybe the designated “tough guy” on the bench … he could be living in the closet, where fear of getting injured or fear of missing the game-winning shot is nothing compared to his fear of being exposed.

Now ask yourself a question and give an honest answer: Would finding out that aforementioned player was gay change how you feel about him?

Around the time Amaechi revealed his secret, former NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway gave an honest, albeit controversial, opinion on how he would have reacted to finding out a teammate was gay:

“You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known,” Hardaway said in a radio interview. “I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.

“First of all, I wouldn’t want (a gay player) on my team,” Hardaway went on. “And second of all, if he was on my team, I would really distance myself from him because I don’t think that’s right. … I don’t think he should be in the locker room while we’re in the locker room. I wouldn’t even be a part of that.”

Even if Hardaway may be in the minority among NBA players, he also isn’t alone in his views. And while it’s easy for us to take him to trial for a public faux pas, how many of us, at the core, hold values that aren’t much different?

How do you think an openly gay NBA player would be treated in the locker room and with fans/media? Do you think an NBA player will ever come out of the closet publicly?

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