It’s hardly a surprise that with the Olympics looming (161 days and counting, if the clock hasn’t stopped… again) the focus of this year’s LGBT History Month is sport. Sport is one of the final frontiers of LGBT equality. The BBC documentary Britain’s Gay Footballers evidenced that there is still a lot of progress to be made despite the recent flurry of gay sportsmen coming out of the closet. This year, at the launch of LGBT History Month, John Amaechi was named, alongside former Welsh rugby captain Gareth Thomas, as one of the patrons of LGBT History Month.
John Uzoma Ekwugha Amaechi, is an American-born British basketball player and he was the first NBA player to publicly identify himself as gay. In February 2007, after his retirement from the NBA, Amaechi spoke about his sexuality on ESPN’s Outside the Lines. He discussed the subject further in his autobiography Man in the Middle, which examined, in part, his career and life as a closeted professional athlete. Despite having received some death threats, Amaechi was surprised at his adopted nation’s reaction to his revelation, saying that he had “underestimated America” and that the “wrath of a nation” which he had expected had never materialised. Not everyone, however, took the news so well. At the time, NBA player Tim Hardaway made some very public homophobic statements saying he would instigate the firing of team members who were gay. He justified his comments by saying, “I don’t think he should be in the locker room when we’re in the locker room. Something has to give. If you have 12 other ball players in your locker room that’s upset and can’t concentrate and always worried about him in the locker room or on the court or whatever, it’s going to be hard for your teammates to win and accept him as a teammate”. The Hardaway doth protest too much… he later apologised for his remarks but not soon enough to prevent George Takei’s merciless and hilarious public service announcement.
Coming out, whatever your walk of life, is a difficult and brave act. It is painfully illustrative of just how homophobic the world of sport is that most athletes like Amaechi come out after their retirement from their sport. Since retiring from the NBA in 2007 he has educated himself in psychology whilst maintaining a career in television presenting. His charitable interests include the National Literacy Trust, the NSPCC and the establishment of the ABC Foundation which encourages children to engage in sport and their community. Professionally he runs a consultancy company engaging bluechip companies in leadership skills, communication and organisational diversity.
His LGBT History Month patronage is valuable and his dual professional expertise as an athlete & psychologist will no doubt bring credible insight to the much needed discourse on discrimination within sport.