As a basketball player, Sheryl Swoopes has won three gold medals, four WNBA titles and is the reigning WNBA MVP, but all that seems to matter now is that she is a lesbian.In a recent article in ESPN The Magazine, Swoopes revealed that she is gay. In making her announcement, Swoopes became the first big-name basketball player to reveal she is gay.
“My reason for coming out isn’t to be some sort of hero,” Swoopes told ESPN. “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.”
The TCU community has mixed opinions about gay athletes in sports.
Moneka Knight, a sophomore guard for TCU women’s basketball team, said Swoopes will be a role model regardless of her sexual orientation.
“She will help girls who have to hide being homosexual,” Knight said. “People are going to see her in a different way. It took a lot of strength, and she is still a hero. Nobody should change what they think.”
Adrianne Ross, a junior guard for the TCU women’s basketball team, said she just wants Swoopes to be happy.
“I am one of her biggest fans,” Ross said. “I have her jersey and her shoes.”
Christopher Bell, a member of TCU’s Gay-Straight Alliance, said Swoopes is just doing her job.
“Let her be who she is,” said Bell, a senior ballet and modern dance major. “Girls can still look up to her. She is a great basketball player.”
Jessica Fleming, also a member of TCU’s Gay-Straight Alliance, said she thinks it is cool that Swoopes came out amidst a heterosexual environment.
“It should not change society’s perception of her,” said Fleming, a junior RTVF major.
For gay athletes, their sexual orientation not only affects their public image but also the camaraderie they have with their teammates.
Lori Levitt, a fifth-year senior and former member of TCU women’s soccer team, said she played with girls who were lesbians.
Levitt said one of the girls she lived with, who was also a teammate, was a lesbian.
“Towards the end of the semester, she told me she was attracted to me,” Levitt said.
Levitt said her opinion of her roommate did not change and still thought she was cool.
Levitt said the player brought her girlfriend to team dinners.
“At first, I was uncomfortable,” Levitt said. “It was also hard for the parents of the players. I don’t think parents should care. My parents did not.”
Levitt said a couple of her teammates were uncomfortable. She said one player didn’t come to a team event and another transferred because of the awkward situation.
Levitt said she believes the sexual orientation of an athlete should not matter if it does not affect the play of the team on the field.
TCU head soccer coach Dan Abdalla said he’s sure he has coached a lesbian player but did not know about it.
“It would not have any factor on how I treated the player,” Abdalla said, “and I am sure her teammates would not have any issues with it whatsoever.”
Levitt said she also witnessed inappropriate actions between players on one of her former college teams that made playing with them uncomfortable.
In a poll conducted for Sports Illustrated magazine in March, 79 percent of the people surveyed said they did not think the majority of women athletes were lesbians.
“The talk about the WNBA being full of lesbians is not true,” Swoopes told ESPN. “There are as many straight women in the league as there are gay.”
Swoopes said sexuality and gender do not change anyone’s performance on the court.
Levitt said the public’s reaction to a female athlete being lesbian is different from its reaction to a gay male athlete.
“When you think of male athletes, you think of them as cocky,” Levitt said. “If you found out a male athlete was gay, you would not think of them as masculine.”
Esera Tuaolo, a former NFL player, said in an interview with HBO Sports that he retired early from football partly because of the frustration and difficulty that came with keeping his homosexuality a secret.
Levitt said she watched a video about him in one of her classes.
“I think it would have been harder on him if he actually came out while he played football instead of after like he did,” Levitt said. “I don’t have a problem with him being gay; to each his/her own.”
Tuaolo said players routinely made gay jokes that made him go deeper into depression and shame.
“They didn’t know who Esera Tuaolo was,” he said. ‘What they saw was an actor.”
Ryne Wilson, a junior at TCU and a transfer from Drury University, was on the Drury swim team for one season and said he had an openly gay teammate.
“You would think it would be a big deal, but it wasn’t,” Wilson said.
Wilson said teammates were apprehensive at first, but once everyone got to know him, they respected him.
“There were jokes made, and that is what makes it harder for a male athlete to be open about their sexuality,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he agrees with Levitt that gay male athletes are not viewed as masculine.
“Straight male athletes are more condescending toward gay males,” Wilson said. “There is no reason to think like that. I do not see how sexual orientation reflects on performance.”
Greg Nord, a freshman premajor, played baseball in high school and said he had a gay teammate.
“He was not open, but he told people he trusted,” Nord said. “Those who knew were fine with it, and those who suspected it made fun of him for it.”
Nord said he doesn’t condone homosexuality but did not hold it against his teammate.
“Every gay athlete should be treated fairly because sports are not about race or sexual orientation or who you love,” Nord said.
Nord said he believes it is easier for a female athlete to be open about her sexuality because male athletes are not open to acceptance.
“Some males do not like changing in front of gay people,” Nord said. “I had people tell me they felt uncomfortable.”
Levitt said she had a male friend who played soccer at Rice who was gay.
“His teammates at Rice knew,” Levitt said. “It did not bother them.”
Dave Callen, a senior history and biology major, said the only problem with gay teammates is when they are openly gay.
“When teammates become aware, it could create an uncomfortable situation in the locker room,” Callen said. “It is a path that could breed an enormous amount of distraction within the team.”
Callen, who played three years of varsity basketball and golf in high school, said he did not know if he had a gay teammate, but said if a teammate had ever disclosed being gay, he would feel the cohesive nature of the team was compromised.
“Call it closed-minded maybe, but definitely not intolerant,” Callen said. “The best policy remains ‘Don’t ask, Don’t Tell’.”
Bell said that because a male athlete is gay, does not mean he is going to go around chasing teammates.
“Gays are like every other person,” Bell said. “It is not a notion of who you sleep with. It has everything to do with your talent.”
Bell said gay athletes bring awareness that gays don’t all fashion design.
Jennifer Akin, a fifth-year nursing student and former TCU cheerleader, said she thinks society sees female basketball players as lesbians before they see swimmers and gymnasts that way.
“Basketball started out as a male sport, and then women began to play,” Akin said. “Basketball is a masculine sport, and females who play are perceived to be masculine.”
The SI poll showed 65 percent of the people surveyed agreed that society is much more accepting of a gay athlete in a noncontact sport, such as golf or tennis.
Akin said she believes a gender stereotype exists for sports.
“Football, golf, basketball and baseball are viewed primarily as masculine sports,” Akin said. “Gymnastics, volleyball and swimming are viewed as feminine sports.”
Jean Giles-Sims, a sociology professor at TCU, said stereotypes are people’s ideas about whom or what athletes are.
“Stereotypes are often not accurate,” Giles-Sims said. “Some people may fit the stereotype, and others may not.”
Giles-Sims said being gay, whether male or female, has nothing to do with being an athlete.
“Sexual identity is one of many identities,” Giles-Sims said. “In the case of Sheryl Swoopes, she is a professional athlete and a daughter and has a sexual life like everybody else.”
Giles-Sims said Swoopes’ sexual orientation should not serve as her “master status;” it is only part of who she is.
“I am a professor, and I do not want to be looked at as a female professor,” Giles-Sims said. “She is an athlete, not a homosexual athlete.
“Swoopes’ sexual identity is her business. There is no reason to focus on hers or the sexual identity of any other athlete.