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Being gay is not an issue in the WNBA
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2013-05-09

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Swin Cash knows she has played with and against gay players during her illustrious basketball career that includes 11 seasons in the WNBA, including three All-Star seasons, and two National Championship seasons for the University of Connecticut before turning pro.

Some have been open about their sexual orientation, others haven't. Even one of her closest friends in the sport came out to her, though wanting to remain silent about her orientation.

None have impacted Cash.

She even laughs at the question.

"At the end of the day, the bottom line is, can you help us win?" said Cash, now in her second season playing for the Chicago Sky. "Respect is the key. I know I have played with several [gay players], and [it has] never been an issue. I had a player tell me that they are gay, one of my closest friends. She just doesn't want to be public about it. In fact, there are a lot of players who don't come out because that's their personal life.

"I just want to win, and if you can help in any way, I want you on the team; I don't care what you do [off the court.] We have a saying in sports … When it comes to in between these [in-play] lines, leave everything else [off the playing surface]. Males and females, everyone will say the same thing."

Gays in mainstream sports, particularly basketball, have never been more high profile than in April.

Brittney Griner, the No. 1 pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft by the Phoenix Mercury, had a record-setting career at Baylor University. She confirmed to Sports Illustrated on April 17 that she is gay and was bullied as a child.

Less than two weeks later, NBA veteran Jason Collins revealed to Sports Illustrated that he too is gay, thus becoming the first active male athlete from one of the four major team sports to come out.

Griner's coming-out shocked no one and drew limited mainstream media coverage.

Collins' coming-out landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated, a sit-down Collins' family interview with Oprah, and a phone call from President Obama to Collins.

"In our league, [being gay] is not that big of a deal, whereas, for men, there might be some homophobia or some lack of open mindedness to embrace [gay players,]" said veteran WNBA player Ruth Riley, who played at Notre Dame before turning pro and is in her second season with the Chicago Sky, her 13th overall in the WNBA.

Riley admitted she was "surprised" how much publicity Collins' coming-out received, and added that it will be interesting, long-term, to watch and gauge what impact Collins' revelation truly has.

Riley said there is a "different mindset in male sports that probably doesn't need to be there; I think it's pretty narrow minded."

Riley said she has played with and against gay players, and it's never been an issue, she said.

"I don't see what the huge deal is," said Allie Quigley, a guard for the Chicago Sky who previously played at DePaul University and hails from Joliet. "I guess people don't care too much when a women [in sports] comes out … because it is a woman, and I guess it's just accepted more."

Sylvia Fowles has been an All-Star in the WNBA and was an Olympic gold medal winner. She is in her sixth season with the Chicago Sky.

"My thing is, you are who you are—and people just have to deal with it," Fowles said. "I don't feel people should have to hide who they are, and we should love them for who they are, and then make them feel comfortable. I think it was a good thing that [Collins] came out."

Being openly gay in the WNBA is not a big deal among women, "because we don't care," about others' orientation, Fowles said. "At the end of the day, if that's who you are and you don't cross any boundaries or disrespect me, then I don't care what you do [in your personal life.]"

Pokey Chatman, in her third season as the Sky head coach, was not surprised at the difference of media coverage given to Collins and Griner; that's just the landscape of the world, she said. The coverage mirrors society on many issues, she added. "Nor do I take offense to it."

"For me, I'm hoping [someone's coming-out] is not the big story," Chatman said. "The goal should be that [a coming-out] is not that big of a news story, and maybe because of Jason that [subject] will start to fade to black."

Chatman said she annually will talk to players about equality, but not just on the sexual orientation front. That also includes players with different religions and varying off-the-court interests.

"Girls are a lot different; they are more accepting," Chatman said.

Cash said the media circus surrounding Collins' coming-out was driven by, the media—not fellow players or coaches.

"For me, whatever your [sexual] orientation is, it has no bearing on our ability as a team, in the locker room or on the court, to do our job," Cash said. "I think it's good for Jason to now feel free, to be who he is."

Cash said locker room talk is mostly sport-related, or about current events, such as the three women rescued in Cleveland—not about a teammate's sexual orientation.

But is a women's locker room different from a men's locker room? That's the question.

Another key question is Collins' future in the NBA. Will a team sign him now that he is a free agent, knowing he is gay?

Just as interesting, Cash noted, is, will a team keep Collins on the roster, as opposed to cutting him, just because he is gay and any potential backlash of the perception it could offer, even if all of the other players on the team truly were better than Collins.

"One thing that frustrates me is, people cannot agree to disagree, and still be loving human beings to one another," Cash said. "I have friends who are Jewish, Muslim, Black, white, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, etc. There are things that we agree about. There also are things that we do not agree about—at all. But, we love one another as human beings.

"Even some of my friends in the NBA who I had conversations with [after Collins came out] had the same opinion. They were like, 'All right, so what? We're here to play ball.'"

Shay Murphy, who is in her third season for the Chicago Sky and her seventh WNBA season overall, said she wasn't surprised so much media covered Collins' coming-out, unlike that of Griner. It's how it is," she said.

Still, Murphy said she was surprised how big the Collins story has been.

"I think we've come a long way with race, gender, [and] sexual orientation," Murphy said. "I think it's huge when you have people like President Obama and Kobe Bryant supporting Jason. They are world famous, and to support someone like Jason for coming out, I think it helps limit close mindedness."

Playing with and against gay players is not at issue to Murphy—at all.

"I love learning about different cultures, religions, orientations—because I'm so open, from how I was raised," said Murphy, who attended USC. "As long as you're happy and not hurting anyone, I support you and am all for you—and it doesn't matter if you're Black, white, Asian, Latin, Muslim, gay, straight, whatever. I think our country is built on the fact that we're a melting pot."

Both Collins and Griner will have lasting impact on the younger generation, many Sky players said. Griner, for instance, has an endorsement deal with Nike, which wasn't affected at all by her coming-out.

"I think it's great, huge that Nike is saying [and] showing, 'Hey, we support you,'" Murphy said. "It's taking the right steps to the future. We've had a history of being discriminatory in this country, but these are the proper baby-steps to have a brighter future so everyone feels accepted."

Regardless of sexual orientation.


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