John Amaechi: Unless They’ve Got Support In Place, Athletes Should Stay In The Closet

I get into trouble sometimes with the gay community by saying it is not the job of sports stars in the closet to come out. That is not how change happens. For an under-prepared and psychologically stunted individual who plays sports at a high level to come out before they are ready is like being born prematurely. Unequivocally, being out is better than staying in, but those who do come out need support.

—Former NBA baller John Amaechi, again cautioning gay athletes about coming out just because activists want them to [via]

The Real Reason John Amaechi Doesn’t (Usually) Recommend Gay Athletes Come Out
John Amaechi’s Terrible Argument About Why Young Gay Athletes Should Stay in the Closet

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  • Acorn

    At a recent panel discussion of gay screenwriters they all agreed that actors should not be forced to come out. No one in the audience confronted them on the subject.
    It’s not exactly clear what the point of this story is…is Amaechi wrong? Where is the Queerty’s manifesto on the subject?

  • DR

    Can we please find any other gay athlete to discuss this issue?!? I’m over this constant cry of “don’t come out” from Amaechi.

    This is a chicken-and-egg thing. Gay men like him expect the straight folk to do the work and create the “safe spaces” for GLB athletes, but we all know that the straight folk generally won’t do that unless they actually have GLB folk to deal with.

    Fine, don’t come out until you’re ready, I get that. It must be a personal decision. But let’s not discourage it, either. And that’s what Amaechi does every time he talks about the subject.

    I’d rather listen to Gareth Thomas on the topic. Out and still competing with his team in one of the toughest sports in the world.

  • Cam

    Yes, and all black people that can pass for white should, because it isn’t about whats right, it’s about making sure that you can avoid uncomfortable situations even though it will weigh you down for your entire life.

    And Jessica Alba? you are no longer Mexican, remember, you are a white girl who likes to Tan. In fact, you aren’t even a woman anymore, dress up like a man, because overall men can have it easier than women, so why not just have everybody dress like a white man, because after all…unless you have support wouldn’t it just be easier if everybody did that?

    Ugh, stuff like this just bugs the crap outta me.

  • Cam

    Do people not know sarcasm? My comment was comparing what Amichi was asking people to do and just changing “Gay” to race or sex.

  • rrr

    @DR: Gay men like him expect the straight folk to do the work and create the “safe spaces” for GLB athletes, but we all know that the straight folk generally won’t do that unless they actually have GLB folk to deal with.

    He doesn’t expect straights to do all the work he and other gays are actively working to try to change the sporting environment in Britain through programs and engagement. He and the others working with him are giving them GLB to deal with.

    John didn’t say here that sport stars shouldn’t come out, he said it wasn’t their JOB to come out. He said being out is better but people shouldn’t have to do it before they are psychologically ready and support should be provided to them.

    Gareth was closeted when he was building his career and coming to terms with his sexuality so he himself waited and he is a really exceptional player so his job is safer than average. I highly doubt Gareth would disagree with John’s comments and say players should be forced out when still psychologically unprepared for it and there is no need for any support.

  • Lucas

    Cam, I think people are negging you because they actually agree with Amaechi, which is even worse.

  • mk

    Is Queerty hoping to egg John Amaechi into writing them again with the deceptive title on this post or are they just not up to the task of covering a gay figure who uses long words and combines multiple ideas?

    The title of the article on the link you took it from is more accurate: “Amaechi Warns Gay Athletes to Take Their Time Coming Out”. Even the snippet you extracted for this post contradicts your title. He says sports stars should come out in their own time when they are ready. He does NOT say they should not come out.

    How does unfairly misconstruing what out gay figures say help our community? And if you are going to misconstrue it why do it in a way that will only discourage gay athletes from coming out? The title is obviously important since most commenters here apparently didn’t read the quote or the linked article to check what the guy actually said.

  • Marcus

    Just because you should stay in, or whatever doesn’t mean you will be able to stay in. The press, a blogger, whatever could run a story at any point for any reason. Queerty has already run several.

    Does John have an answer to that?

    And BTW, change does happen when people come out. You don’t exactly have to do it purely for someone else, but it does change things for you and for others.

    He should know better.

  • mk

    @Marcus: I can’t think of one gay celebrity outside of Perez Hilton who has publicly said celebrities who aren’t actively promoting hate should come out before they are prepared for it. Even Rachel Maddow has said “everyone has different circumstances” and “find your own way” as qualifiers when talking about her own personal decision to come out early and about how being out is better for individual and the community. Gay celebrities pretty much universally support Barney Frank’s doctrine – if a gay public figure isn’t fighting against gay rights they shouldn’t be forced out. Of course the world may not cooperate and may out them, but the celebities’ opinions are what they are and we have seen that outed celebrities in turn often don’t cooperate by coming out when they are being outed.

    Why does Amaechi get villainized about this? As I said, even Rachel has said the same thing essentially – it’s better if people come out but they should do it in their own time.

  • Marcus

    Clay Aiken was outed, as was Neil Patrick Harris, and they more than, “cooperate.” Larry Craig still doesn’t think he’s gay, so that’s another subject entirely.

    And it’s irrelevant if a gay celebrity says anything about coming out before they’re ready.


    Zachary Quinto was outed by a columnist in Entertainment Weekly before the movie even premiered.

    Bloggers started running stories about Matt Bomer before his TV show even aired, and the gloves came off a few weeks in.

    Queerty ran that story on the rugby player a few weeks ago and had pictures to boot.

    Terrell Owens tried outing one of his colleagues Jeff Garcia more than once.

    And let’s not even get started on Queen Latifah and Anderson Cooper.

    I think it’s great to say that take your time, go at your own pace, etc etc.

    But if this website among others are going to print pictures of you at pride, kissing other guys, or whatever, you can’t really take your time if your already put on blast, correct?

    Things are changing so fast. People aren’t keeping up. What “shouldn’t” happen and what’s apparently happening right before are eyes are two different things.

    It seems to me that John isn’t keeping that in mind. That why I asked what does he expect some of those players to do when Deadspin or whomever starts running stories? Should you just stay in anyway?

    That said, it’s purely your decision to comment or talk about it, no one can take that away. Newspapers, talk show hosts, comedians and all talked about Ricky Martin for YEARS, almost like he had been out, and he’s just now talking about it, which was purely his decision.

  • Kieran

    I think what John is saying is that, sadly, the world in general and professional sports in particular are still very homophobic places. He’s perfectly right about that. Let’s not delude ourselves. We need to be working to end the traditional nelly stereotypes and effeminate stigma surrounding being homosexual so that more gay professional athletes feel comfortable acknowledging their sexual orientation without shame and without feeling in some way diminished.

  • mk


    Clay Aiken was outed, as was Neil Patrick Harris, and they more than, “cooperate.” Larry Craig still doesn’t think he’s gay, so that’s another subject entirely.

    Clay Aiken did not cooperate. He waited for years to come out and did it when he decided the time was right for him. NPH did not cooperate immediately and came out only after his PR person put out a lie without his approval claiming he was straight. Even then his cooperation was limited and increase only gradually as he became more comfortable and secure. I listened to an interview with the Out Magazine editor where he said after NPH came out they had to court him for a year before they could get him to agree to a cover story.

    NPH like John Amaechi has said people including celebrities should come out in their own time. He has said that while he understands where Perez was coming from in outing him he doesn’t agree with it himself. Clay has not advocated people coming out before they are ready and has like other gay celebrities said coming out is a personal process.

    And it’s irrelevant if a gay celebrity says anything about coming out before they’re ready.

    If it’s irrelevant then no one should care that Amaechi and the other gay celebrities hold this opinion. I would say it’s only irrelevant if we decide there is no distinction between being outed and being out, which is controversial and it’s not the view most bloggers take when they talk about celebs like Latifah or Jodie Foster.

    It’s true that gossip runs a lot freer in the internet age, but personal choice and personal journey is still a significant factor. As you mention, the decisions about being out in everyday life and/or officially come out belong to the celebrity and they take steps when they choose to. Bloggers can report on celebrity lives and gossip but bloggers can’t make their choices for them.

    I don’t see why anyone is making a deal out of this celebrity “come out when you are ready” line like it’s surprising. You are not going to see gay celebrities issuing statements telling other gay people, famous or not, to come out before they are mentally and emotionally ready for it. It would be recklessly irresponsible and celebrities prefer to give very safe advice and to cover their own asses. It would also run counter to nearly all of their own planned decisions about when and how much and to whom to come out.

  • toby

    If John followed his own advice he wouldn’t have a career. The man was never known when he played basketball. He wasn’t a star player. After retiring he came out and then made a business of being “out” with books, speaking engagements, etc. I often wonder if he would have been true to himself if he wasn’t making money off of it.

  • rrr

    @toby: John *has* following his own advice. He waited until he was ready to come out, and that’s that he is advising others to do.

    He wouldn’t have the career he does now if he wasn’t in the NBA before coming out. He was a heavy British guy who’d started playing basketball way later than American kids and never had a jump shot. By his own assessment he was an average level candidate for the pros after a lot of effort and catch up work who definitely would not have made the cut over his massive intense competition if he’d been out when there were so many other candidates just as good not gay and out.

  • rrr

    That first paragraph came out fucked up. I meant to say:

    John *has* followed his own advice. He waited until he was ready to come out, and that’s what he is advising others to do.

  • Lucas

    Amaechi is absolutely right.

    When Branch Rickey wanted to test the color barrier in baseball, he knew he had to find the right person. He had to find someone who would take the insults and not respond, in addition to being able to hit and field. Had he tried to showcase anyone else other than Jackie Robinson the color barrier may not have crumbled so quickly.

    Similarly, the first gay athlete will need to be a special kind. Just like Jackie, they’ll need to be able to respond to the bigotry with class, which requires a support system. Could you imagine if Terrell Owens, or Lebron James, or Michael Vick, or Floyd Landis came out?

  • tylertime

    What support system do people need? I came out and didn’t know if anyone would be there for me. I was lucky to have my friends and family stand behind me. I was 22. I’m sure many of these athletes have more than enough money for “support”.

  • reason

    @Lucas: If Michael Vick came out for one he would still be in prison and he would never have been reinstated back into the NFL. He would also have absolutely no support and the majority would be discussing his gayness rather then the dog fighting. You are absolutely correct, it takes the right person. Putting Rosa Parks on that bus was no mistake, they knew she had the style, demeanor, record, and background to accomplish the object. If a military deserter had been the one on that bus what would have happened? Robinson is another excellent example, not many people in the world of any race would have been able to stand up to the assault he took and handle it with such poise and professionalism: his actions not only unarmed detractors but sent a strong message in itself that could only have been amplified by being one of the best players on the field. You have to have a full package, someone that is utterly outstanding on the field so people become enamored with their skill, in order for people to realize the personality that must be immaculate.

  • rrr

    @tylertime: He means players should be given some institutional support from sports leagues to help them come out. He’s talked about this before. He would like to see the top brass of UK sports leagues distribute policy papers regarding sexuality to administration, managers and players the way they do all the time regarding racism.

    He has not said no players should come out until support is provided. He just says that sports leagues like other organizations should be called upon to take some actions to promote the safety and wellbeing of minority employees in their work environments.

  • mk


    I think it depends what this hypothetical player is supposed to achieve. It’s unreasonable to sink too many hopes into one person or expect them to transform everything.

    If a player is to get picked up by a professional league when he is out or not get cut after coming out while in the league, I think the vital thing is being so skilled that even in a bigoted and incredibly competitive industry with masses of hopefuls it would be crazy to sacrifice the guy.

    I think for the first black player the no fighting or responding thing was important because of the bigoted old stereotype of blacks being too brutish and crude for polite society and the white unwillingness in that time to put up with an “uppity” black backtalking to whites. I don’t think no fighting or responding is something a gay player would need to worry about particularly because the anti-gay bigoted negative stereotype is an opposite one of being too weak and girly.

  • ewe

    Whatever. What he says can be said about any gay person in any career or just about any day in their everyday life. What a self indulgent statement resembling nothing more than victimhood. Hate against gay people is everywhere. The real truth is that he came out late in life so he is struggling with the two different worlds he allowed to occur in the first place. He did not feel this way when i saw him pushing his book at Barnes and Noble. Let’s remember the guy threw a ball into a netted hole for a living. It’s not all that progressive really.

  • toby


    I didn’t have any professional support at work when I came out so why should athletes? Where does “support” stop? Should obese people get support at work? Should people not as smart as others? I’m gay. I’m not disabled. I’m sorry these athletes have to grow up. Whether you are a school teacher, wall street banker, doctor or athlete coming out is hard.

  • afrolito


    “We need to be working to end the traditional nelly stereotypes and effeminate stigma surrounding being homosexual so that more gay professional athletes feel comfortable acknowledging their sexual orientation without shame and without feeling in some way diminished.”

    So once again, it’s the queens who are responsible for the poor brave “masculine” gays, staying in the closet. Did I get that right?

  • Kieran


    Well if the high-heels fit…..

  • rrr

    @toby: You sound like one of those gays who join the right wing in objecting to LGBT hate crimes legislation as “special rights”.

    We are a vulnerable minority that faces popular discrimination. There’s nothing wrong with Amaechi working towards trying to get UK sports leagues to put out a policy statement. He’s right that if they do it for other groups they should be willing to do it for gays who without a doubt face a hostile work environment. There aren’t many obese professional athletes, but if obese managers or administrators feel they deserve a similar policy statement they are free to try to make that case for themselves (assuming there hasn’t already been a policy made for discrimination against the obese).

    He’s not asking for “support” like special facilities. He’s asking for the leagues to tell their members that the lack of toleration for discrimination and bigotry that they have already announced in statements many times extends to sexuality as well.

    Yes, it’s hard for “a school teacher, wall street banker, doctor or athlete” to come out, but a lot of professional organizations and employers outside of sports have policies against anti-gay discrimination. In plenty of developed countries other than America anti-gay discrimination by employers and organizations is also forbidden by human rights legislation. This isn’t a matter reserved to athletes.

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