John Amaechi, the first former NBA player to ever come out, had some good and bad things to say about being gay in professional sport.
In an interview with UK-based online radio station Gaydio, Amaechi first gave his opinion on the importance of International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), a global day of awareness of anti-gay hate.
Amaechi told Gaydio’s Chris and Emma on their breakfast radio show: ‘I think the key for me is that we have a day that can focus the attention of the media, the people within the LGBT community, on how fortunate many of us have it.’
‘IDAHO focuses attention on the fact that there are people out there in places that are not safe, not welcoming, and that there’s still more work we can do.’
Chris and Emma asked Amaechi about what could be done in the UK to tackle gay hate in what they called the most homophobic sport: football.
Amaechi responded: ‘Sports has been a particularly tough nut to crack. There are lots of old-fashioned people in sport who liked it the way it was back in the day.’
‘I think some element of [homophobia in football] is that they [the Football Association] has never really been challenged to change.’
‘They [the FA] have become really good at producing posters with phrases on them saying "we’re not homophobic, we like the gays," but the fact is they haven’t backed up that rhetoric with real action.’
He added: ‘This is still an organization that hired its first woman for its board after 100 years, it took 100 years to find a suitable woman to be on the board. That just tells you it’s an organization not quite ready to join the 21st century.’
Amaechi believes that sport leaders should be held more responsible for homophobia in sport. ‘Their latent homophobia, their latent racism gets no attention, and it’s really leadership who should be blamed initially because they’re the ones who disseminate the culture.’
Amaechi, who didn’t come out of the closet until after he left the NBA, said being a closeted professional athlete was ‘lonely’.
‘Your thoughts are your own and you can’t share them. You hear teammates talk about you though they don’t realize necessarily they they’re talking about you in ways that hurt. It’s akin to what some kids experience today in school when they don’t come out… It’s death by a thousand cuts.’
Gaydio’s Chris and Emma asked what advice would he give to other LGBT people who aren’t out.
Amaechi responded: ‘I would say the idea that everyone should come out is an idealistic one. If you want safe, if you want secure, do not come out.’
‘There are people who get your show (Gaydio), who are aware of IDAHO, and they are all over the world, and they are in places where they could get hurt. They could be imprisoned or they could be killed if they come out.’
‘So if that’s the case, try to reach out online and find some community there and try to reach out in ways which keep you safe.’
Amaechi added: ‘If you are in a place where it’s a little more welcoming, where the law isn’t against you, then find one person that you can share your life without having to pretend…’
‘And the relief you will feel in doing that is remarkeable.’