You might have heard about John Amaechi, the former NBA center who just became the first pro basketball player, active or retired, to identify himself as gay. The situation is very evocative–alas–of Dave Kopay’s. Kopay was the first pro football player to come out, way back in 1975. I profiled him for GQ in 1998. Like Amaechi, he was a journeyman, not a star, and his career was already over when he disclosed his sexuality. Even so, it was a big deal for Kopay to come out, a much bigger moment than any he’d ever experienced in his playing days.
I admire Amaechi and Kopay for their steel spines and fortitude, but it’s troubling that even in our putatively more gay-friendly era, Amaechi is still eliciting the kinds of responses from his former league-mates that Kopay got in the mid-’70s. LeBron James’s comments are especially disappointing. I’m inclined to like James, whose precocity, grown-up appearance, and game belie his 22 years. But in this instance, he sounds more like a callow, unenlightened high-school jock. Reacting to the news that Amaechi spent his career in the closet, James said, “With teammates you have to be trustworthy, and if you’re gay and you’re not admitting that you are, then you are not trustworthy... It’s a trust factor, honestly. A big trust factor.”
Were LeBron to read about what Dave Kopay went through (I’ve just posted the article), he’d see that a gay athlete has many reasons to fear that he can’t trust his teammates.