Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Swoopes' Slam Dunk

WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes has come out as a lesbian in a soon to be published article in ESPN magazine. Read a snippet here.

I must have been the only former WNBA fan to have been in the dark. The rumor mill has been churning for months about her relationship with Alisa Scott, former Old Dominion coach.

Don't look for too many gossip stories here at From Where I Stand. In general, gossip does more harm than good, causes people to move their focus from improving their own lives to getting involved in others, and encourages obssession with personal lives other than our own.

I'm mentioning Swoopes' revelation because one of my criticisms of the WNBA and professional sports in general, is that if a woman is athletic, she is somehow not really a woman. Or, to prove just how much of a woman she is, her marriage and children become a major part of her marketing, as it was with Swoopes. Pregnant with son Jordan, she was a regular fan in the stands, and interviewed whenever possible, both during her pregnancy, and after the baby's birth. Similarly, a female player's beauty, as with WNBA marquee player Lisa Leslie, becomes a major marketing push. In an effort to attract major sponsorship, and keep its NBA bankrollers happy, Title IX provisions be damned. The game, the skill, the athleticism is never as important as how womanly the players are. The really talented players who are a little too butch don't get to be out in front. They don't get the big sponsorships, and don't become marquee players. In fact, they may even get dumped if deemed just not marketable.

Take the case of former Los Angeles Sparks player Latasha Byears. Cut from the team shortly after allegations of sexual assault against a teammate, Byears sued the Lakers, the big brother of the Sparks, of bias because of the organization's support of Kobe Bryant during his rape trial. Butch-appearing Byears led her team to the championships, but got no support during the LAPD's investigations. Meanwhile, Bryant was given time away from team practices, and use of the team plane to commute between L.A. and Colorado. The standards clearly are different.

One of the reasons my partner and I gave up our season tickets for the New York Liberty was the eventual trading of popular and talented team captain, Teresa Weatherspoon. From the league's inception, and New York is one of the original teams, totally straight-appearing former University of Connecticut player Rebecca Lobo was the team's marquee player. Lobo's performance in the first two seasons was dismal, followed by season-ending knee injuries, and eventual trading to the Connecticut Sun. Weatherspoon, not-so-obviously straight looking (and I've been in social situations where she was present) provided seven seasons of leadership, helping the team get to five playoffs. Prior to the 2003 season, she was offered a non-player contract, while Becky Hammon, a newer, younger, and more marketable player, was moved to the front of the point guard position on the team. As part of Weatherspoon's contract, she wouldn't be an active player, but because she was under contract, she couldn't play for anyone else until waived. Eventually, she, and strongman Tamika Whitmore, went to the Sparks.

I don't have much to say about Swoopes' assertion that she doesn't believe she was born gay. I think that's not really relevant. Some would say her belief gives fodder to the reparative movement. The reparative moevent stands on its own in dumbness. Swoopes' revelation is important in that she's one of the most powerful professional female athletes, and arguably the most visible Black female athletes ever to come out. Once the face of the WNBA, she even had her own Nike shoe.

Rumor has it that she'll be the new spokesperson for Olivia travel, the premier travel company for women, with a primarily lesbian clientele. Not exactly a Nike endorsement, but not a small thing either.

As I've said in the past, I don't support outing of celebrities, but I do support creating environments that encourage people to come out. I'm also not a fan of assimilation, but it's the perception that lesbian and gay people are extraordinary, as in not ordinary, that scares seemingly ordinary people; there are none so queer as folk. Courage be yours, Sheryl. You face loss of income, amped-up invasion of privacy, and even harsh criticism. Play this like you play ball -- till the final buzzer sounds.


Blogger Shark-fu said...

Excellent. That was excellent and perfectly said!


5:10 PM  

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