Comets' Sheryl Swoopes opens up about being gay
By W.H. STICKNEY JR.
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
Three-time WNBA Most Valuable Player Sheryl Swoopes of the Houston Comets announced that she is gay in a nationally-publicized article that hit the newsstands today.
"My reason for coming out isn't to be some sort of hero," Swoopes said in an interview that appears in the current issue of ESPN The Magazine. "I'm just at a point in my life where I'm tired of having to pretend to be somebody I'm not.
"I'm tired of having to hide my feelings about the person I care about. About the person I love. Male athletes of my caliber probably feel like they have a lot more to lose than gain (by coming out). I don't agree with that. To me, the most important thing is happiness."
In the ESPN magazine article, Swoopes said she has been involved in a same-sex relationship with former Comets assistant coach Alisa Scott since shortly after divorcing Eric Jackson, her high-school sweetheart and husband of three years, in 1999.
According to the ESPN article, the 34-year-old Swoopes is the most recognizable athlete, male or female, to come out in a team sport. In September, Swoopes became the first WNBA player to be named MVP for a third time.
She is a two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, the leading vote-getter in the All-Star Game five of the six years it's been held, and this past summer was crowned MVP of the classic.
Comets coach Van Chancellor said he had been aware of Swoopes' impending announcement for several days. He refused to comment or speculate about how the announcement might affect Swoopes' future in the WNBA.
"I've coached Swoopes for nine years for the Houston Comets as well as with the (USA Basketball) national team," Chancellor said. "What she does in her personal life is her own decision.
"I respect everything about Sheryl, how she's handled herself on and off the court. To me, she will always be one of the greatest ambassadors for the game of women's basketball and as a person has helped me win four (WNBA) championships and two gold medals."
Chancellor coached Swoopes and the U.S. women's national team to a gold medal in the 2002 World Championships in China, and a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.
Swoopes was a member of U.S. national teams that have won three Olympic gold medals (Atlanta in 1996; Australia in 2000).
Swoopes, a nine-year pro, missed the first month and a half of the inaugural (1997) WNBA season in a celebrated pregnancy that resulted in the birth of her only child, son Jordan Eric Jackson, now 8.
Ever since Swoopes was recruited by Jody Conradt to play basketball at Texas but abruptly left after only two weeks in Austin almost 15 years ago, rumors have persisted as to the reason for her exit.
It was said that she was pregnant and went back to her hometown near Lubbock to quietly give birth to a child. Swoopes has vehemently denied that, a stance supported by Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharpe.
It was also said that Swoopes asked Conradt for a transfer because she had been inappropriately approached by a female associated with the Texas women's basketball program.
That assertion, too, Swoopes has denied. She later accepted a scholarship to Texas Tech and led the Lady Raiders to the NCAA women's championship in 1993.
She was named National Player of the Year and became the first female to have a basketball sneaker manufactured (by Nike) under her autograph.
Swoopes was the first player signed by the WNBA in 1997 and was designated the "franchise player" for the Houston Comets, one of the eight charter teams of the new league.
Shortly after she and Jackson divorced, Swoopes began to develop a strong friendship with Scott, a former member of Chancellor's coaching staff who left the Comets prior to the start of the 2005 season for personal reasons.
Swoopes was first named WNBA Most Valuable Player in 2000. That same year, she not only won the league individual scoring title but was named Defensive Player of the Year for the first time.
While playing pickup basketball one month before the start of the 2001 WNBA season, Swoopes tore up her left knee and underwent corrective surgery that kept her out of competition for the entire summer.
She came back the following year and after a slow start was back at the top of her game. And for the second time in three years, Swoopes was again named WNBA MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.
After a lackluster 2004 campaign individually, during which the Comets failed to make the playoffs for the first time in eight years, Swoopes entered the offseason hearing whispers that at age 33 the game had passed her by and it was time for her to retire.
Prodded by her son to give it one more try, Swoopes in 2005 was for the fifth time in six years the top vote-getter for the WNBA All-Star Game. With a brilliant all-around game during the classic, staged in Uncasville, Conn., Swoopes became only the second Comet (joining Tina Thompson, 1999) to be named All-Star Game MVP.
She almost single-handedly carried the Comets back into the playoffs last summer and in the process, added a second WNBA scoring title to her impressive individual trophy case along with a third league MVP title.
The Comets advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since their final championship season (2000), but were swept 2-0 in the Western Conference finals by the eventual league-champion Sacramento Monarchs.