Basketball superstar

Women’s basketball superstar comes out of the closet

At the start of her career, Sheryl Swoopes struck a famous pose. Appearing on the front cover of Sports Illustrated women’s magazine with her stomach swollen from the late stages of pregnancy, Swoopes looked like an athletic version of Demi Moore. Unlike Moore, she kept her clothes on, a Houston Comets jersey, in fact.

Still, the image was provocative. It shed light on the ability of women to give birth and chase rebounds soon after, to be moms, teammates, and competitors at the same time.

The image of Swoopes was seen as an antidote to stereotypes about women’s basketball. She married her high school girlfriend and often professed her love for shopping. One of the best players in the game and Olympic gold medalist, she emerged as traditional, feminine, even a little glamorous and above all not gay. She made the sport feel safe for people who needed that kind of comfort.

Eight years later, Swoopes is the best at her sport and she still enjoys shopping. In fact, it’s one of the few interests she doesn’t share with the love of her life, a woman named Alisa Scott. They’ve been living together for about six years and on Wednesday Swoopes went public with their relationship and took a giant leap out of the closet.

She’s a lesbian. So the stereotype of women’s basketball fits, except that it’s irrelevant.

Swoopes doesn’t know what her new image will be, and she doesn’t particularly care.

“I’m just at a point in my life where I’m very happy, and I’m very happy, and I want to be able to live my life and be who I am and not pretend anymore,” she said over the phone. from her home in Houston. “And I feel like for the last seven, eight years, that’s what I’ve been doing, pretending to be someone I’m not and wanting something that I don’t want.”

Swoopes, 34, said she didn’t feel like she was living a lie when she married Eric Jackson in 1995. Until she met Scott, whom she affectionately calls “Scotty,” she says she has never felt an attraction for women. Former basketball player and coach Scott, 40, arrived in Houston in 1998 as an assistant to the Comets. Scott resigned earlier this year.

Together, they both raise Jordan, Swoopes’ 8-year-old son. Swoopes said she and her ex-husband have moved on and never had to worry about her sexuality being used against her in a custody battle.

Her description of her life as a basketball player, particularly as a college rookie and as a player at Texas Tech, seems hugely protected. She said she had never witnessed the homophobia that would be built into the college game. No one whispered innuendo about another coach during the recruiting period or drew battle lines between the so-called straight and gay schools.

The environment is certainly not that benign for most young women. At Penn State, women’s basketball coach Rene Portland, who announced her hostility to lesbians until an anti-bias policy calmed her, is being investigated into allegations that she would have chased away players she deemed homosexual.

Of course, Portland would likely make an exception for Swoopes, who won one NCAA title, three Olympic golds, four WNBA titles and three WNBA MVP awards, including the current one.

Being a superstar has its perks. Yet Swoopes is the first big name in professional team sports to come out of the closet. Only two other WNBA players have declared being lesbians, and both, Sue Wicks and Michele Van Gorp, are now retired.

Considering the assumptions surrounding the sport and the fact that the league has marketed itself to a lesbian audience, the fear factor seems overwhelming. Swoopes owns the sport, and even she has avoided the truth for most of her career.

But on Wednesday, she looked rather fearless. She hosted a fairly modern coming-out party, calling a series of reporters with a PR consultant by her side. Olivia, a San Francisco travel agency that caters to a lesbian audience, signed her into a sponsorship deal and the company helped her manage her media contacts. It was not an attempt by someone who feared losing everything. It was a coup from a woman used to winning.

Swoopes said she spoke with WNBA headquarters and with a representative from Nike, its other main sponsor, and both had promised to support her. She was slightly nervous about speaking to reporters, but her only real worry was her mother, Louise, who disapproved but remained close to her daughter, promising to pray for her.

“She cried and wondered why and what she had done wrong,” Swoopes said. “I wanted her to know that she raised me to be a very good child, a very strong, independent and powerful black woman, and I happen to be in love with another woman, and that did nothing to do with anything she’s done wrong. “

As a basketball player, Swoopes would love to see her league reach out to the lesbian community even more, but at the same time, she wants sex to become a non-issue.

“No one is saying whether the men in the NBA are gay or straight,” she said. “They just want to see good basketball. Why can’t they do that with women and see them as talented players?”

So, after burying silly assumptions about moms buying fancy clothes, Swoopes now wants to put gender stereotypes in sports aside. Good thing she emptied some space in the closet.

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