Ms. Swoopes Come Clean.

By Jerold A. Wells Jr.
Updated: November 3, 2005

MINNESOTA —WNBA superstar Sheryl Swoopes recently informed the world that she is a lesbian. By taking the opportunity to “come out of the closet” Ms. Swoopes believed she could live a more comfortable life and not have to worry about hiding what she feels is her true identity.

In reading various articles about this situation as well as words from Swoopes, I get the feeling that she is more relieved than anything else. That she feels as though a burden has been lifted, a dark cloud removed from over her head. She senses that she can live her life free of pressure to be heterosexual, both overt and covert. That being said I think it’s important to realize that not much is going change about the phenomenon that is Sheryl Swoopes.

Swoopes to me is the quintessential women’s basketball player. She is one of the few players in the WNBA whose college pedigree is matched, if not exceeded, by her professional accomplishments. She is a flawless wing player who is as devastating defensively as she is offensively. She is an MVP level performer, a league champion many times over, and former defensive player of the year. Before you accuse me of unnecessary hyperbole please realize that Ms. Swoopes recent disclosure as to her sexual preference is not merely the most recent of a long list of noteworthy accomplishments, it is the least important.

From a sports perspective, Swoopes culmination of a stellar collegiate career with a National Title, her integral role in establishing a Women’s Basketball Dynasty in Houston, or winning both the Defensive Player of the Year and the League Most Valuable Player in the same year are all more impressive. It is vital that we realize Ms. Swoopes is not any less, or more, of a basketball player because she is a lesbian. If left open for a 15 – foot jumper, she will bury it. If given the lane, she will drive hard and finish. When given a defensive assignment she will more times that not get the better of her opponent.

Sadly, basketball (or sport in general) is not the be all end all. There is much more to an athlete’s life beside what he or she does on the court, on the field or on the ice. Couple this with the fact that our country has yet to fully embrace alternative lifestyles and it’s plain to see that Sheryl Swoopes opened a very large can of worms.

Gay and sport still seem to react like oil and water in the minds of most Americans and that will make Sheryl Swoopes life harder in the aftermath of her confession. Some parents will cease buying her jersey for their young daughters, some will boo a little more earnestly, and others will spew the most disgusting of words in her direction during contests. How will the WNBA react? Will Swoopes removed as on the original “faces” of the league (leaving only Lisa Leslie) and have all of her contributions to the WNBA count for nothing? Or will they protect one of their bona fide superstars from the varying abuses that can come with being openly gay?

The most important thing to remember in the wake of this situation is that Sheryl Swoopes chose to walk through a door that other athletes will approach as well. Demographically it is nearly impossible for a gay male superstar to not exist. While he may presently live in the same state of oppression Swoopes chose to pull herself out of, perhaps the courage to come forth is welling inside him at this very moment. I’m not sure if America is ready but hopefully they are.

I find it amazing that sports fans can look past womanizing, alcoholism, drug abuse, gambling, and numerous other personal shortcomings to support their favorite players. It seems as if the tainted hero is the most celebrated. Why then the hullabaloo over being gay? While I do not believe people are born homosexual I do believe it to be a personal decision that is to be respected….just as the choice to sleep with every woman you find attractive, drink all the alcohol your body can handle, or use illegal drugs are choices.

Sheryl Swoopes is still a heck of a ball player and her personal life will not change that. Real parents will explain that to their children, real fans will continue to support her, and real people know that while this may be a first it is certainly not the last.