Amaechi will be first publicly gay NBA player
John Amaechi is gay, and now the first NBA player to come out publicly is ready to talk about it.
Amaechi, a center who spent five seasons with four teams, is scheduled to appear on ESPN’s Outside the Lines on Sunday, and his autobiography "Man in the Middle," will be released Feb. 14.
"He is coming out of the closet as a gay man," Amaechi’s publicist Howard Bragman said Wednesday.
NBA commissioner David Stern said a player’s sexuality is not important.
"We have a very diverse league. The question at the NBA is always ‘have you got game?’ That’s it, end of inquiry," he said.
Three years after his playing career ended, Amaechi has become the sixth professional male athlete from one of the four major American sports (NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL) to publicly discuss his homosexuality.
Former NFL running back David Kopay came out in 1977, and offensive lineman Roy Simmons and defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo came out more recently. Glenn Burke, an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland A’s in the 1970s, and Billy Beane, a utility player in the 1980s and 1990s (not the current Oakland general manager), also have come out.
"What John did is amazing," Tuaolo said. "He does not know how many young kids he has saved. He does not know how many lives he’s saved by speaking the truth."
Martina Navratilova, perhaps the most famous openly gay athlete in the world, also praised Amaechi’s courage and wondered why so few athletes have made the same decision.
"We are the most closeted of any profession, especially on the men’s side. It’s astonishing how few have come out, considering how many athletes there are," she said. "It’s all about education and making us tangible instead of a group you can say terrible things about."
In his book, Amaechi describes the challenge of being gay in a league where it is assumed that all players are heterosexual. He writes that while playing in Utah, coach Jerry Sloan used anti-gay innuendo to describe him.
Sloan said Wednesday that although his relationship with Amaechi was "shaky" because of the player’s attitude, he didn’t know Amaechi was gay. Sloan had no comment about Amaechi’s contention that Sloan used anti-gay innuendo when referring to him. Amaechi said he found out about it in e-mails from friends in the Jazz front office.
When asked if knowing Amaechi was gay would have mattered, Sloan said: "Oh yeah, it would have probably mattered. I don’t know exactly, but I always have peoples’ feelings at heart. People do what they want to do. I don’t have a problem with that."
Amaechi, 36, who is British, competed for Penn State, then played 301 NBA games over five seasons. The 6-foot-10 center averaged 6.2 points and 2.6 rebounds in the NBA. He began his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1995-96, then spent a few years playing in Europe. He rejoined the NBA to play for the Orlando Magic from 1999-01, then played two seasons for the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz traded him to Houston, which traded him to the New York Knicks. When the Knicks waived him in January 2004, he retired.