By Ross Forman
She had the Chicago game circled on her schedule for several months, no doubt in red marker. Sheryl Swoopes was hyped for her Houston Comets' lone road game of the season in Chicago on July 14 against the expansion Sky.
Particularly for the post-game party and the festivities in Chicago associated with Gay Games VII that officially kicked off on Saturday, about 24 hours after the Houston-Chicago tip-off, even though she was not going to be part of the quadrennial Olympic-style sports and cultural extravaganza.
'This Chicago game has definitely been in the back of my mind for sometime,' Swoopes said.
Swoopes made her lone Gay Games-related appearance after the Comets' win, appearing at the Women's Kickoff Party, held at the Hilton Chicago on Michigan Avenue and hosted by Olivia and HRC ( Human Rights Campaign ) .
'When I was introduced at the Chicago game, I kind of expected to get a pretty loud ovation because of everything going on right now in Chicago with the Games—and the fans didn't let me down, which is such a great feeling to know that there are so many people who support me, support the decision that I made [ to come out ] and just continue to be Sheryl Swoopes fans,' she said.
Swoopes, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time MVP of the WNBA, came out publicly last October as a lesbian, making her the highest-profile team-sport athlete to come out while active.
'After coming out in October, I didn't really know what to expect. A lot of people thought, myself included, that I now could just go out and play, be relaxed and not worry about anything. But it's actually been the opposite—more stressful because I didn't know what to expect. But the reception in every city that we've gone to has been incredible,' Swoopes said. 'Having come out in October, and now truly being able to live my life and be me, I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate it than to go to the Gay Games. Unfortunately I can't do that. But when I'm done playing ( in the WNBA ) , I would absolutely love to be a part of the Gay Games.
'I would have loved to have been able to stay around in Chicago, to watch the Games and just support the Gay Games. But obviously because of my [ WNBA ] schedule I'm not able to do that. But, to be able to come out tonight and address the [ party ] crowd, see how excited they are about the Games [ and ] just being a little part of the Gay Games, that was great.'
She also privately addressed the approximately 12,000 participants, saying, 'go out, have fun, enjoy the Games and seize the moment.'
Swoopes' appearance in Chicago coincided with her See Red Campaign, launched at the beginning of the WNBA season as Olivia got behind Swoopes' coming out decision. Street Teams distribute red buttons before home and road Comets' games with the simple rallying cry: Get Your Red On!
'The buttons came from a brain-storming session on how Olivia could show its support, and fans too. And as much as I'd love to take credit for the idea, I can't,' she said. 'The campaign has gone over very well.
'Initially, I thought it was just going to be in Houston. And the button has not only been popular in Houston, but in other WNBA cities as well. I'm glad that the fans wear the buttons, that they want to wear the buttons, just to show their support. That really makes me feel good.'
Swoopes said the campaign has gone 'a lot better' than first expected. She has seen WNBA fans wearing the buttons in Sacramento and Seattle, among other places.
The campaign is simple, strong and powerful,' she said. 'I hope people know they too can be powerful. I really just hope ( the buttons ) inspire people, young men and young women, especially those who may be struggling with their sexual identity, or life in general.'
Swoopes and Rosie Jones headline a Hawaiian cruise, Nov. 8-18, promoted by Olivia.
'I'm so excited [ and ] so looking forward to going, getting time away,' Swoopes said. 'The first Olivia cruise that we went on was like a dream, something that I had always wanted to do. To be around so many women who are just like us, all of whom want to be free and be themselves, was like a big family.'