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Hoops Star Swoopes Comes Out
by Andrew Davis
2005-12-01

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Although the Chicago White Sox winning the World Series dominated news ( at least in Chicago ) , there were other happenings in the sports arena last month—with the most momentous being the coming out of Olympian and current WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes.

A three-time Most Valuable Player ( MVP ) of the basketball league, Swoopes, of the Houston Comets, announced that she is a lesbian in an item that appeared in ESPN The Magazine. It was tied to her announcement of becoming a spokeswoman for Olivia Cruises & Resorts.

'I'm tired of having to hide my feelings about the person I care about. ... To me, the most important thing is happiness,' she said in the first-person account. In the ESPN magazine article, Swoopes said she has been involved in a same-sex relationship with former Comets assistant coach Alisa Scott since shortly after divorcing Eric Jackson, her husband of three years, in 1999. ( Swoopes and Jackson have joint custody of their eight-year-old son, Jordan. )

Swoopes commented that when she came out to her mother in 2000, her reaction was expected. According to the basketball star, her mother simply said 'I figured' but also asked, 'What did I do wrong?' Swoopes's response was that she did nothing wrong but that being a lesbian is who she is.

WNBA President Donna Orender issued a statement commenting that Swoopes's 'lifestyle choice is a non-issue for us.' Dave Cowens, a former NBA player who is the coach of the new WNBA franchise Chicago Sky, asked 'What's the big deal about reacting to one person's sexuality? On the basketball side, as a player, her performance speaks for itself.'

Swoopes, said that she was not always aware that she was gay and fears that coming out could jeopardize her status as a role model. 'Do I think I was born this way? No,'' she said. ''And that's probably confusing to some, because I know a lot of people believe that you are.' Swoopes added that her 1999 divorce was not related to her orientation. She added that her 'biggest concern is that people are going to look at my homosexuality and say to little girls ... that I can't be their role model anymore.'

Several groups have praised the athlete's admission. For example, Human Rights Campaign's Joe Solmonese said that 'Sheryl Swoopes is a real hero on and off the court ... This MVP player and Olympic gold medalist is helping to start real conversations about openness, honesty and authenticity.'

However, at least one person has commented on another aspect of Swoopes's action: the belief that it is easier for a lesbian to come out in sports than a gay man. According to an item on ESPN.com, an athletic administrator at a major university ( who has not officially stepped out of the closet ) e-mailed the Web site to respond to a quote from Swoopes that ' [ t ] he talk about the WNBA being full of lesbians is not true. ... What really irritates me is when people talk about football, baseball and the NBA, you don't hear all of this talk about the gay guys playing. But when you talk about the WNBA, then it becomes an issue.' The administrator replied that he lives '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. ... 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?' He added that the first man who comes out in the middle of his career 'will not just open a door but burst a dam.'

Swoopes also talked about endorsing Olivia Cruises, a gay travel company. She did not immediately agree to the deal: 'After [ Olivia CEO ] Amy Everett asked if I would be the face of Olivia ... I had to think about it. A few days later, I called Amy back and said yes. It's funny ... when I booked the cruise I didn't even think about people seing my name on this list full of lesbians. I guess I didn't care. [ At this point, ] why not just come out?'

A five-time All-Star and three-time Olympic gold medalist, Swoopes is the WNBA's only three-time MVP. She played for the Comets during their championship run from 1997-2000, but missed the 2001 season with a knee injury. She led the WNBA in scoring last year, averaging 18.6 points.


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