After reading about Jason Collins’ coming out, I decided to take a look back at my interview with ‘professional gay’ (his words, not mine) and retired NBA player John Amaechi that I did for my Master’s feature. I’ve cut about 3,000 words out and as much of my attempts at being a journalist as possible. He says some interesting stuff though.
So yeah, here:
Former NBA basketball star John Amaechi came out publicly in 2007 at the age of 37 – long after he had retired.
Since joining the handful of other openly gay sportsmen – which recently welcomed Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas into the fold – Amaechi has become something of a professional gay. He continues to campaign tirelessly against homophobia in both the world of sport and society as a whole.
“The chances of becoming an elite athlete – you’ve got more chance of being hit by a meteor,” says Amaechi, keen to remove the burden of responsibility from closeted players. “You’re more likely to be hit by a meteor than to make it to the highest level,” he repeats for effect, “so what we’re saying, and the FA is saying, is that it’s the job of an individual to make that change and it’s so contrary to the way any organisation should work.
“Anytime you’re in an environment where it’s up to one person to change the system, you know you’re up shit creek. Because then you’re talking about Rosa Parks, then you’re talking about Martin Luther King. When you’re talking about that, the environment is so crooked, so twisted, so evil, that the only way change can happen is for one individual to step up.”
Kicking out homophobia
Earlier this year, the Football Association shelved its plans to ‘kick out’ homophobia after pulling their commercial to tackle the issue. The official reason was that the FA needed more time to work on their campaign but it is widely believed that they suffered from a severe case of cold feet ahead of releasing the video in which a man is shown making homophobic slurs in an office. The piece concludes by saying homophobia is not acceptable in that environment before cutting to the terraces and asking ‘so why should it be acceptable here?’
Amaechi was consulted prior to the video being made and was adamant in his opposition every step of the way.
“The advert is poorly thought out,” says Amaechi. “The reality is that sexuality defeating prejudice in any arena are nuanced things, they can’t be attacked with a sledgehammer. And that’s what this advert is, it’s just one big uncouth sledgehammer that’s aimed at shocking people. What they forget is that this behaviour, that they are showing in the ad, is the behaviour that gay people already know exists and that’s why, as sports people, they choose not to take part in mainstream sport or choose not to go and sit in the terraces.
“It’s badly formed because they’ve treated this advert like it’s the be all and end all of some kind of strategy. The FA keeps talking about how they are trying to start a debate but there is no debate – homophobia is unacceptable. What they are actually doing is that they are approaching their anti-homophobia strategy in a completely different way to anti-racism; with racism, they were unequivocal – it is unacceptable and with this, they end the advert by asking a question, a conditional question at that.
“Football is acculturating entity,” adds Amaechi. “It has the potential to disseminate culture, to establish norms but it’s abdicating its responsibilities.”
Chris Moyles’ gay comment
Away from the world of football, back in 2006, a listener complained after DJ Chris Moyles famously – or rather, infamously – dismissed a ringtone on his Radio 1 breakfast show by saying “I don’t want that one, it’s gay.”
The listener argued that the use of the word in this context was homophobic. The BBC, however, ruled that Moyles was simply keeping up with developments in ‘English usage.’
This too, angers Amaechi.
“I think homophobia is devastating to straight boys,” he says, “which I think most people will think is a curious idea.
“I think the idea that boys must behave in a certain way to prove that they’re not a sissy. These ways include shutting off their emotions, being less intelligent, being less interested in education because all these things make you gay in schools. It’s devastating what it does to boys – straight boys and gay.
“Language is everything,” adds Amaechi. “It’s interesting to me that when we get this argument about the use of the word gay as the pejorative; people like Chris Moyles do it and the BBC says ‘well, you know, it’s not that important.’ It’s funny how language is so important in schools that we teach it but when it comes to issues like this all of a sudden words aren’t important anymore.
“When a photocopier can be gay, when someone making a mistake is gay, when somebody whose smart who’s a boy is gay – these things are destructive.”