Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Heading the Tabloids Off at the Pass: Swoopes Announcement of Sexual Orientation May Surprise But Hardly Shocks

So Sheryl Swoopes is gay. The news that the star of the WNBA's Houston Comets prefers the intimate company of other women strikes me as...uh...underwhelming. I'm trying to understand why I'm not more, er, excited by the news. Or the imagery. Or intrigued. Or curious. I'm certainly not shocked. Hell, isn't everybody gay these days??

It's certainly true that when the "big gay revelation" hit football in 1975 with Dave Kopay—former 49ers, Lions, Redskins, Saints and Packers running back—eyebrows were raised pretty high. That was 30 years ago. Supposedly a couple of other former football players "came out" over time, though whoever they were they weren't household names. Neither in fact was Kopay (pictured here, then and now), but he had played for

Vince Lombardi with the '69 'Skins, and a teammate of his, a terrific pass-catching tight end named Jerry Smith, was implicated by association and in fact later died from AIDS in 1986. Kopay wrote a book about being a gay athlete—the best-selling 1977 autobiography The Dave Kopay Story—and he later gained some notoriety as a public spokesperson for the cause.

I guess we are occasionally conscious about gayness in the athletic realm, primarily because it's so often shoved down our throats in so many other politically correct realms. I mean, it's okay, isn't it? Being gay is not a big deal, is it? As I said, everyone is gay—even the vice-president of the United States' daughter.

Where sports is concerned, the reality of homosexuality might cross our minds once in a while, as in the form of an oddball random question: "Gee, what if it turned out that Hank Aaron was gay?" Or, "What if Joe Montana was caught in a public park soliciting men for oral sex?" Or, "I wonder if Allen Iverson is ever on the 'down-low'?" Yeah, it would sorta be a bummer for meat-and-potatoes guys like us to learn if things like that were true. Maybe the remarkable thing, in this media-crazed, tabloid-obsessed world of ours, is that we don't hear about this stuff more.

Frankly, I'm all for privacy. I'm no more interested in whether Sheryl Swoopes is gay than I am in knowing if the Minnesota Vikings were having an orgy on a yacht. Theoretically, if the clerk at my local Blockbuster is gay, then that isn't more newsworthy to me than Swoopes' recent revelation.

Apparently, she wants to get this fact out on the table. She no longer wants to "hide" her sexuality. She wants to be above-board about her current relationship with her female partner. I guess we can all breathe easy now, and Houston's next Gay Pride Parade has a new grand marshal.

However, I'm still mostly unmoved by the news. And maybe the reason why is that a) I don't give a hang about the WNBA (and I'll bet there are a lot of folks who feel likewise); and b) somehow the idea of a lady basketball player "coming out" simply doesn't have the same shock value that it would if a prominent NBA player did the same thing. Yeah, we'd all have our antennae up if Kobe Bryant added to his dubious public profile by coming out of the closet. Things got pretty intense back in 1991 when Magic Johnson announced he was HIV-positive, proving that society still gets a little antsy about AIDS and its link to male homosexuality. Somewhere in the backs of our minds, we know that if Sheryl Swoopes is "doing it" with her mystery lover, there most likely isn't an exchange of bodily fluids going on that will prove deadly down the road to someone else.

I would even bet that if Swoopes had kept her mouth shut, the overall fallout to any eventual reportage of her social situation would be minimal. I don't think it's a publicity stunt (not that the WNBA couldn't use one), but Swoopes may have overestimated just how important it was for anyone outside the Comets locker-room to know the facts of her personal life. There's just something "softer" about the idea behind lesbian athletes, especially in an area of sport, the WNBA, where the public at large is not that interested. (Sorry, gals, but it's the truth.)

We wish Swoopes a long and happy emotional and romantic life, especially after her basketball career is over. (She's 34, and doubtless her best years are behind her.) But the truth is that gay female basketball players just don't make for very "hard" news.

Now what was that about an orgy in Minnesota...?

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