JOHN AMAECHI OBE
PSYCHOLOGIST AND FORMER NBA PLAYER
I came out publicly after I retired, and when I did, it was more of a political statement than anything else. I was out to my family and friends and I was out to some of my teammates for a long, long time before — I just simply wasn’t out to random strangers. I was more trying to draw attention to the fact gay people don’t just look like one stereotype. They have a bit more diversity than what is implied by what you see in the media. The vast majority of men that have come out in sport are black — that’s not a suggestion, it’s just a fact.
The intersectional minorities in the LGBT+ community that have done a good job of raising the people are really concerned about sport and having more LGBT+ sport role models that are active, you have to start asking why, in major sports, there hasn’t been any. It’s not down to the individual, myself or other LGBT+ athletes, but issues that are still at the heart of many sports. I had a really positive experience with many of my teammates; most were interested if I was diligent and good at my job, and only interested in my life to a limited extent. I experienced a lot of support with a small amount of problems.
I think it’s perfectly reasonable to look at sportsmen and women who are LGBT+ and wish they delivered the promise of being role models. Everybody needs their own time and not everybody is as equipped as others to handle the pressure.
There’s something about the fact that it’s quite irritating to spend a life becoming something that’s incredibly rare, as a professional athlete, and then overnight to have your description changed from professional athlete of all the implications of the graft and the grind, to then one day waking up and you’re just a ‘gay athlete’.
For some people, they just need to pick their own time, and for others, they by this.
There’s lots of gay Premiership football players, but the fact that
you don’t know about them is not a statement about them being closeted or ashamed, they live in the same way most of us live, but they’re just not out to strangers.
What happens is you look at Tom Daley and suddenly think diving is accepting, or you look at Gareth Thomas and think rugby is accepting. But where are the 11, 12 and 13-year-olds? We know that kids are coming out earlier and earlier now — where are they in sport?
The reality is that people respond to being well led, and at the moment they’re not being well led in sport.
Sports have decided for the most part – when I say this, I’m really talking about the big money sports – to put money before principles.
I think in every sport, there’s been a lot of progress. It’s true that some are better currently than others when it comes to coming out, and it’s absolutely correct that diving and gymnastics are in some part, maybe, further than others. The excuse that team sports would make is that they are more ‘individual sports’, but I don’t think that’s true. I think these sports have just decided that they’d rather have the person operating at their best, rather than hamper them and forcing them to stay in the closet.
As long as we have their advocacy, whether they be straight or LGBT+, that’s the kind of support that I really want. I’d really like it to put the emphasis on the organisations, and their societies, and say I’d like them to create an environment where coming out was just everyday.
Announcing you have a husband as a man has no more of an impact on life and your career and opportunities than announcing you have a wife. That’s what I’d like, but that’s not the circumstance right now.
I do a fair amount of work with organisations in China, and one of the lessons I learned there is that you can’t judge the position of a country with the position of all its people. Russian laws on the LGBT+ community are terrifying, as are parts of Africa and even the Caribbean. Same with other parts of Eastern Europe, and same in China. But the people entirely. So I think that athletes at the upcoming Olympic Games don’t have to worry about the individual athlete, what they have to worry about is that, if you’re a runner, if you’re in athletics, you will end up in those countries.
That’s when it impacts your performance, because you’re in a place where you’re considered illegal or wrong or bad, and that poses a threat – especially if you’re an out athlete going to one of these countries.
It’s always about if you’re safe. I’d give a sports star the same advice I’d give to a 16-year-old in a highly religious family that told them they will not pay for them through college, will not support them and will not allow them to live under their house. I would NOT suggest to that 16-yearold to come out and be proud, because I can’t be responsible with what might happen to them.
I’d say the same thing to athletes, and that’s the maturity level we need when we look at what we ask of athletes.