First Active Pro Athlete To Announce He’s Gay Will Truly Test Society’s Maturity

By Terry Foster
Updated: February 11, 2007

John Amaechi

John Amaechi

DETROIT — Former Lions wide receiver Herman Moore believes he may have played with two gay teammates during his 11-year playing career. The suspicions grew to the point that the two were confronted by teammates in the dressing room.

But Moore would never reveal the teammates’ identities unless they admitted to it first.

“You hear things,” said Moore who left the Lions in 2001. “It (the NFL) is its own society and its own fraternity. Whenever there is something going on, you catch wind of it. There were several well-known and prominent players that were supposedly gay when I played. But no one really would challenge that or go out on a limb because of the ramifications or infringing on someone.”

Several former Detroit athletes said news that former Utah Jazz center John Amaechi has admitted he is gay in an upcoming book called “Man in the Middle” should be no big deal. But it is.

Moore would never rat out a gay teammate because he understands the ramifications. So that makes it a big deal. Amaechi will be a hot story for a while before going away. He does not have a big enough name and he did not have big enough game when he played. Amaechi was a role player, one of hundreds of players who come and go without making a ripple in the league.

His story will be fun to read. But he is hardly a trailblazer by admitting he is gay after the fact. The real Jackie Robinson of the gay movement will be the first active NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball player who admits he is gay. Only then will we be able to study society under a microscope and see how it treats the person.

At some point, a prominent male athlete will confess that he is gay and it won’t go over well either in the dressing room or in the stands. We as a society are not mature enough to debate the issue without fights, protests, jokes and immature behavior.

I mean how many soap and shower jokes have you heard this week?

“I can’t speak for somebody else’s locker room, but if it’s mine, we won’t have a problem,” New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas told reporters last week. “I don’t know (if the NBA is ready for an openly gay player). But I know this league is not about discrimination. I do know that.

“Sports have always been the testing ground for what society will or won’t accept. If we’re not tolerant, we’ll become tolerant.”

That may happen over time. The athletes I’ve spoken with say they are beyond this. They simply want a good teammate who helps the team win. Some will act mature. But I am not buying that the entire dressing room will look at a gay player in the same manner they do a black, white, Asian or Hispanic player.

“I would not look at them differently, although you would have to have a different approach and sensitivity,” Moore said. “But we all have a responsibility to respect them. It is their lifestyle and that is what they chose to do. So be it. I have religious beliefs that might be contrary to that, but it is not one I would openly throw upon someone or damn them.”

Some suspected Amaechi was gay when he played in the NBA. He supposedly went to gay clubs while home and away. He flirted with the idea of coming out but understood the ramifications.

He once said: “If you look at our league, minorities aren’t well-represented. There’s hardly any Hispanic players, no Asian-Americans, so there’s no openly gay player is no real surprise. It would be like an alien dropping down from space. There’d be fear, then panic. They just wouldn’t know how to handle it.”

Former Tigers slugger Willie Horton gets it. This is not about reciting biblical passages. It is about treating another human being like a person. You know the saying — do unto others as you want others to do unto you.

“The way I look at it, if you had been with a guy, it does not matter,” Horton said. “He is still a person. It would not affect me. When you are around guys for so long, they become family members. If you have a family member who is gay, that is your family member.”

Everybody is saying the right things — that is, if they are talking at all. A number of players have refused comment. LeBron James was gutsy enough to admit that a gay player probably could not survive in the NBA. The pressures would be too great.

The fans would be brutal. We spoke about it on The Sports Inferno last week and a number of callers said in one breath it does not matter to them but in the next breath said they would not cheer as hard for the player or might not shake his hand.

“People are still not comfortable with 14 guys on a roster and being in close quarters,” said Mark Chambers, who is chairman and founder of the National Gay Basketball Association. “I am asked all the time during tournaments why are you making a political statement by running a gay tournament. It is about basketball and if you can play basketball it should not matter in a perfect world. But this world is not perfect.”

Chambers agrees that any current athlete coming out in public would become the Jackie Robinson of the gay movement. He’d receive catcalls, death threats and, despite what athletes say, he’d be treated differently by teammates.

“There are gay basketball players,” Chambers said. “The only difference is you cannot see it on their skin color. It would be huge and that person would take a lot of heat. I think he would take more heat privately than publicly because no one wants to be perceived as a bigot, especially under the David Stern regime. I think most people don’t care individually but collectively, they would have to make themselves more manly by saying I am not like that.”

Former Michigan State player Greg Kelser said players would get a lot of heat from coaches.

“They are quick to point out your manhood,” he said.

And isn’t what this is all about? It is about our perfect world of sports being the biggest, fastest and toughest guys representing us. And we are just not ready for a gay man to be the one carrying the banner for our favorite teams.