John Amaechi was greeted with an amazing round of cheers from the near-450,000 attendees of the 2007 Chicago Gay Pride Parade, far greater than any ovation he ever received during his five-year career in the National Basketball Association ( NBA ) that included stints with three teams, culminating with the Utah Jazz after the 2002-03 season.
Amaechi was the grand marshal for the Chicago Gay Pride Parade, and for similar 2007 parades in Salt Lake City and Los Angeles.
Amaechi was, without question, the biggest—and, at 6-foot-10, also the tallest—LGBT sports story in 2007.
'It feels like the attitude toward athletes coming out is really changing, and I think this really was the first year we saw that,' said Cyd Zeigler, Jr., of the gay Web site OutSports.com . 'I think 2007 was the most important year ever for gay sports because of the incredibly positive reaction from straight athletes and the [ mainstream ] media to the gay sports stories that happened this year. In 2007, homophobia in sports became a bad thing.'
Amaechi came out last February, leading to a media flood of exposure for the first NBA player, current or retired, to announce he was gay. The media exposure hit worldwide when former Chicago native Tim Hardaway, a former All-Star player, went on an anti-gay, hatred-filled radio interview.
Hardaway was immediately blasted and, simultaneously, sports superstars threw their support behind Amaechi and gay and lesbian athletes as a whole.
'There was an overwhelming support for John Amaechi, from stars such as [ Glenn ] 'Doc' Rivers, Shaquille O'Neal, Scottie Pippen and so many others,' Zeigler said. 'Over and over again, major names in sports said, 'I don't have a problem with gay people and you shouldn't either.'
'The [ positive ] reaction to John Amaechi and the [ negative ] response to Tim Hardaway were so incredibly important.'
The support Amaechi received also, according to Zeigler, was influential in a wave of current college athletes coming out.
And no doubt more athletes will come out of the closet in 2008, whether it be former professional or current collegiate athletes. 'That's a hard question to predict,' Zeigler said.
Zeigler would not speculate, or even guess, when a current athlete from one of the big four pro sports ( baseball, basketball, football and hockey ) would come out. But it's only one person away from happening, he said.
'And that one person can be an athlete taking a stand, or someone outing their former lover. When will that happen? I have no idea,' Zeigler said.
But, Zeigler speculated that 'the first' likely would be a National Hockey League ( NHL ) player.
'Sports Illustrated did a survey a couple of years ago and found that hockey players were the most gay-friendly, particularly, NHL players in comparison to athletes from all of the big four sports,' he said.
The Top 5 LGBT Sports
Stories of 2007:
1. John Amaechi comes out.
2. Gay Games VII, held in Chicago in 2006, breaks even financially.
3. Transgender sportswriter Christine Daniels of the Los Angeles Times.
4. The wave of college athletes coming out.
5. Tony Dungy raises money for an anti-gay organization.