Sheryl Swoopes Comes Out as Lesbian
WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes has written a long column for ESPN the Magazine announcing that she’s a lesbian and explaining why she’s going public.
My father wasn’t around — I’ve never met him — but my brothers always looked after me. I’m especially close to my oldest brother, James. He was the first of the kids to graduate and go on to college. I won’t forget how proud my mom looked when he crossed the stage. When I saw that, I knew that I wanted to follow in his footsteps.
Especially coming from a small town, and not having a lot growing up, and hearing people tell my mom, “Your kids will never grow up to be anything or anybody.” James was always supportive of me playing basketball, from the time I was 7 on through high school, the championship at Texas Tech, the Olympics, the WNBA championships with the Comets. He was always there. Five years ago, when I told him I was gay, he only had one question: “Are you happy?”
My reason for coming out now isn’t to be some sort of hero. It’s not something that I want to throw in people’s faces. I’m just at a point in my life where I’m tired of having to pretend to be somebody I’m not.
I’m tired of having to hide my feelings about the person I care about. About the person I love. Some people might say my coming out after just winning the MVP Award is heroic, and I understand that. And I know there are going to be some negative things said, too. But it doesn’t change who I am. I can’t help who I fall in love with. No one can.
I didn’t always know I was gay. I honestly didn’t. Do I think I was born this way? No. And that’s probably confusing to some, because I know a lot of people believe that you are.
I’ve been married, and I have an 8-year-old son. Being with a man was what I wanted. When I got divorced in 1999, it wasn’t because I’m gay. I’m three years older than my ex-husband, and I matured a lot faster than he did.
Discovering I’m gay just sort of happened much later in life. My partner, Alisa Scott, was probably the best friend I had when I was going through the tough times in my marriage. She was a basketball coach, so we had a lot in common. She would ask, “Have you guys tried marriage counseling? Have you done everything you can possibly do to save your marriage?” And I just said, “You know what, I don’t want to save my marriage. I don’t. I’m done with it.”
But I’m tired of being miserable. Not being free to be who I am, not being OK with other people knowing who I am — it has been miserable. And it hurts. I’m a very affectionate person. Going out to the movies or dinner, seeing so-called normal couples show affection in public and knowing that I can’t, that hurts. It’s frustrating to keep everything inside and not be who I want to be. I’m sure life is not going to be easier for me just because I’m coming out. But at least I’ll be free.
My biggest concern is that people are going to look at my homosexuality and say to little girls — whether they’re white, black, Hispanic — that I can’t be their role model anymore. I don’t want that to happen. Being gay has nothing to do with the three gold medals or the three MVPs or the four championships I’ve won. I’m still the same person. I’m still Sheryl.
Am I going to come back and play next season? Absolutely. And I hope my coming out doesn’t have a negative effect on the WNBA. Because it’s not going to change the game, or the players, or the league. It’s not going to change me. The WNBA is well aware of the support they get from the gay and lesbian community. I think they should market to the gay community more. I understand why they don’t. They don’t know if everybody is going to accept it. But my thing is, money is money. As long as people are coming to the games and paying for tickets and filling seats, then I don’t really care what color they are or what community they’re from. If the league came to me and said, “Sheryl, we want to use you and market you more toward the gay community,” I would be all for that. And if they came to me and said, “Sheryl, we can’t use you to market the WNBA anymore,” well, I’m not going to say I’ll be OK with that, but that would be their choice.
Most of the players around the league already know I’m gay, and I do feel like there’s a sisterhood among lesbian players. We know we’re not going to get the support from a lot of other people. But the talk about the WNBA being full of lesbians is not true. I mean, there are as many straight women in the league as there are gay.
Frankly, I’m more shocked that the WNBA is still around than I am that Swopes is a lesbian. Indeed, in a league that she estimates to have a 50-50 mix of straights and gays, her status isn’t particularly unusual.
I suspect her revelation that she wasn’t “born gay” but rather “disovered” it will not sit well with some in the gay activist community.