The Team USA Women’s Basketball squad includes four players that have come out as gay, including most recent WNBA MVP and current Team USA Women’s Basketball medal hopeful Elena Delle Donne. Three of her teammates on that outfit – Brittney Griner, Angel McCoughtry and Seimone Augustus – are also out. Nary an eyebrow has been raised.
The NBA, however, has no active players that have come out. Former Magic and Jazz center John Amaechi revealed his sexuality four years after playing his last NBA game, while longtime NBA stalwart Jason Collins came out via Sports Illustrated in 2013 prior to a 22-game turn with the Brooklyn Nets in 2013-14.
Other than that? Silence. Save for a few rumors and innuendo working alongside the knowledge that NBA rosters have seen heaps of closeted gay players through the years.
And that’s unfortunate. Even sadder? It’s understandable. WNBA players join us in thinking so, as Sam Amick’s USA Today feature points out, starting with women’s hoops legend Sue Bird:
“It’s more about stigmas than anything else, and I think with those stigmas you have people who are going to be judged,” said Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm. “I think on the men’s side, they’re not quite there yet. Jason Collins, for him to do that, particularly in the basketball world, he was the one who kind of broke down the barrier. And maybe in the future, it’ll change. But I think right now there’s still that stigma. I would love for it to change, because it’s really not that big of a deal in all reality.”
“That’s a subject that is so taboo in men’s sports, (where) if you bring up anything gay they run out of the room like it’s a virus,” said Diana Taurasi, the Phoenix Mercury guard. “I feel like that’s just something that as you grow up, as you mature, those are the things that you accept as a human being that people are different. Whether it’s sexuality, whether it’s race, whether it’s religion, as you get older and as you become a smarter person, you’d think you would look at things differently.
“I think maybe (the problem is) education, and I think it’s maturity. I think our league has really grown in that way, and in a lot of ways. Obviously Jason, what he did was monumental, but there’s a long ways to go.”
” […] I also understand it because as a player, I’ve been that person where it’s really hard to come out. It’s super hard. You’re just not comfortable with it. You’re worried about not being accepted, being rejected, being cast out. It’s tough. It’s really tough.”
Delle Donne echoed these thoughts, reminding us that “no one should have to hide who they are” in the wake of her somewhat-buried “announcement” that she’d become engaged to another woman just prior to the beginning of this summer’s Olympiad.
So why, why, why, in a league that appears light years ahead of its counterparts, one that decided to uproot a long-scheduled All-Star weekend in North Carolina due to that state’s oppressive anti-LBGT law, have a litany of NBA players decided to stay in the closet all these years?
The unspoken and most frustrating initial reason is likely the stigma that both Bird and Taurasi spoke of, one that mostly still worms in the muck just below the surface. Followed by the challenge of maintaining the typical day-to-day rights and comforts they’d known, personally and professionally, prior to coming out – as discussed by Griner and Delle Donne.
The stigma, sadly, still implies that sport – in whatever context, with whatever goal and at whatever level – is somehow a masculine affair, full stop. Regardless of gender. And that it remains no big deal that the WNBA has several players who have come out to little fanfare, because of course. They’re playing sports, sports require all sorts of machismo and heaps of other stereotypes associated with heterosexual males, and the prevailing wisdom amongst the wisdom-less is that gay women are overwhelmingly more masculine than their female heterosexual counterparts.
Which is all uproariously false and ridiculous, but even in these supposed enlightened times this is what we’re still dealing with.
The sad yet prevailing illogical extension of this is that some WNBA players would of course have to be gay. And to some dimwits, it probably lends an air of enhanced credibility to a sport that these dimwits are (dimwittedly) not watching.
That same dimwittedness sustains in how many regard the NBA, which at last check only features male basketball players.
For all the advancements North America has made culturally over the last few years, we’re still 12 years removed from an incumbent presidential candidate attempting to make a country-wide ban of gay marriage a top election talking point even during wartime. No recent NBA players come savvier or better-traveled than Kobe Bryant or Joakim Noah, and yet both were fined in recent years for yelling homophobic slurs. Rajon Rondo, just months ago, outed an NBA ref that had previously wanted nothing to do with being outed, via the same slur. This is the world that a young, closeted, NBA player has grown up in.
Even with Jason Collins, the kind words and figurative open arms that followed his announcement took a while to manifest tangibly. A few months removed from acting as a 2012 free agent candidate that two teams that we know of wanted to sign (prior to another team wanting to deal for him in 2012-13), Collins had to go deep into the 2013-14 season before the Brooklyn Nets signed him to a free agent contract.
The average NBA rookie may have only been born a few weeks after Kevin Garnett was drafted, but he’s still had to live through all of this. A closeted NBA rookie still had to go through far, far too much as a 13-year old in 2008 (or, infuriatingly and after school hours, in 2013) to make coming out anything less than harrowing. It’s still harrowing for a kid in junior high in 2016 to come to terms with who they are, out to friends and family, despite the long-overdue advancements.
That’s not even getting into the plight of the 31-year old veteran, looking for one or perhaps two more free agent deals, a player and person who had to come to the same realization at an age that ran concurrent with the same time that Matthew Shepard’s story sadly became a national tragedy.
The Jason Collins movement was earth-shaking, on all levels, but caveats abounded. Whoever comes out next will have a tougher go of things, in spite of how much has changed since 2013.
For one, 2013-14 was always expected to be Collins’ (who was drafted in 2001) final year. Five of his teammates in Brooklyn (including three starters and the team’s sixth and seventh men in the rotation) had played with him before, the respect was already there, and Collins’ longtime Nets champion in Jason Kidd was the team’s head coach. Collins also played as he always had, at age 35 – a no-stats (to the extreme, in many cases) All-Star that pushed people around on both ends of the court in limited minutes.
There has yet to be a player to come out with designs on a long future ahead of him in the NBA. This is a shame, but it’s also understandable once you attempt to understand just a scintilla of what such a player has already been through while in the closet, prior to any potential move to go on record as being who he is, openly.
A choice that this particular player is under no obligation to make, in spite of what some demented hacks will attempt to deduce via mobile phone application and/or national audience via a columnist’s privilege.
The players are in place, we know as much. The attitudes are changing, and the locker rooms are becoming more and more welcoming.
What’s left to do is that hack away at this centuries’ old and outmoded and incorrect-at-all-levels stigma, one chip at a time. That, to the similarly outmoded, starts with a brand new exercise in how they view sport, sexuality, and gender in the first place.
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