In 1995, Penn State University center and Academic All-American John Amaechi signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers and became the first undrafted free agent in the history of the National Basketball Association to start in a season-opening game. The six foot 10 inch Amaechi went on to play for six NBA seasons, his best coming in 2000 when he averaged 10.5 points per game and was honored by the Hall of Fame for scoring the first basket of the new millennium. Following his retirement, Amaechi co-authored Man in the Middle, a best-selling biography that made headlines when it revealed his homosexuality.
Having participated in sports for most of my life, I picked up Amaechi's book shortly after my own coming out and was awed by his ability to thrive in an environment notorious for celebrating hyper-masculinity. In the years since learning Amaechi's story, I've followed his journey as an advocate for the LGBTQ community and have been consistently impressed by his patience and the grace with which he carries himself in such a role.
Because of the unique position he holds in representing the LGBTQ community in an arena generally associated with heterosexuality, I reached out to Amaechi last week to ask a few questions regarding his advocacy, who he looks to for inspiration and his thoughts about Nike's eagerness to sponsor the first openly gay athlete in a major U.S. team sport.
CL: What are you up to these days?
JA: Currently I'm working in a couple of areas, one of which is my own company Amaechi Performance Systems, which does business and organizational consulting. I'm also working with my own charity, a community and sporting center, as well as a few other charities focused on equality and youth causes.
CL: How is what you're doing making a difference in the LGBTQ community?
JA: I try to be a vocal advocate as someone the media approaches for comment on issues of equality and diversity in and outside of the LGBTQ community. I try to make sure I act as both a role model and a positive spokesperson for the community.
CL: Have you been approached for advice by any of the athletes who have come out recently?
JA: I've not been approached by any athletes who have already come out or plan to come out soon, but I have been approached by younger athletes who may do so and a few veterans who probably won't.
CL: Can you share your thoughts about Golden State Warriors CEO Rick Welts' recent comment that Nike is eager to sponsor the first openly gay athlete in a major U.S. team sport?
JA: Nike never spoke to me post coming out and they dropped me like a bad habit once my playing time waned in Utah, so I'm glad to hear they've evolved.
CL: What LGBTQ issue are you most passionate about?
JA: My main philanthropic concerns are about the well-being and welfare of young people. When it comes to young LGBTQ people, the environment is still toxic for too many in schools and, sadly, in their families, so I work to educate and uplift families, schools and individuals as best I can.
CL: Can you name the one person whose contribution to the LGBTQ community has inspired you most?
JA: Actor Sir Ian McKellen was out in his profession well before anyone could have considered it safe and he continues to be an advocate for the LGBTQ community across the world.
CL: Have you had the opportunity to spend time with Mr. McKellen?
JA: We've met on a few occasions and we converse via email a few times a year. I consider him a mentor and a friend and I'd love to monopolize more of his time if I thought he had it.
CL: If you had to recommend one book, movie or song with an LGBTQ bent, what would your recommendation be?
JA: I would recommend the film Beautiful Thing by Jonathan Harvey. I came out to my family after watching it on television in England. It still makes me cry when I hear the soundtrack. It should be in the school curriculum everywhere.
CL: What do you hope for the LGBTQ community?
JA: I hope that one day LGBTQ history and its pioneers will still be celebrated, perhaps more so than now across the wider society. I also hope that those same advocates won't be necessary as the integration and acceptance of the LGBTQ community will be completed and all the legally enshrined discrimination will be quashed.
Note: A link to this post appeared on Towleroad on April 18, 2013.