Oh, John Amaechi. Just as we were anointing you the face of gay activism in sports, you went and ran your mouth about how young athletes, if they want any hope of a professional career, should stay in the closet. This is the message you want to send to youth?
Amaechi is in favor of athletes coming out. This much we know. But when it comes to a certain class of sports types — the young, unestablished set — coming out is less important, says the former NBA star. Perhaps damaging. And wholly stupid, even.
“I don’t insist that they be a Joan of Arc,” says Amaechi of gay athletes. “Why? Because that is what would happen: they would get burned at the stake. And how does that help anyone?” Isn’t that a little dramatic? Not for a young player, who is not yet established it isn’t. The fact is, you’re more likely to be hit by a meteor than to make it as a Premier League footballer, so why add another reason why you might not make it? … This is one of the few sports where we have a previous example,” he says. “And no, it didn’t change things. Justin Fashanu came out [in 1990] and we saw what happened. He was destroyed. It killed him. Literally. Can we honestly be sure any of that has changed?”
Nope, much of it hasn’t! But the playing field (both figuratively and literally) won’t improve any until gay athletes play openly.
And while Amaechi’s argument about how the leagues, and not necessarily the players, need to make pro sports a more welcoming environment is valid, he’s arguing that gay athletes bear no responsibility to helping bring about change: “I think the mistake we make is that we’re looking at the footballers as if they are the problem. The FA framed the argument that because no gay footballer is brave enough to come out, homophobia will continue to exist. But it’s not the job of the minority to make the environment safer.”
He is wrong. It is our responsibility, inasmuch as it is everyone‘s responsibility. If we do not fight for an equal stance on the soccer field or basketball court, it is foolish — stupid, even — to assume someone else will come along and do it for us.
That’s like saying heterosexuals must carry the equality legislation fight alone. We’ve tried that. It went nowhere. And so too will this strategy.