AE: You went on a cruise with Sheryl Swoopes.
RJ: We did a party at the Gay Games. I got to meet her girlfriend, but Sheryl had just finished a basketball game and was not feeling well, and so we only spoke for a few minutes. But she is very classy, and I look forward to spending more time with her and getting to know her a little better.
AE: What about Patty, Muffin and those guys? For example, when you were coming out â€” Patty Sheehan, that would be a good person to talk to.
RJ: Actually, I did talk with Patty a little bit about how she felt, what were some of the fears she had, how she thought the LPGA was going to handle it, how do you think fans handle it, and stuff like that. And, you know, she was very supportive. I’m not sure if she felt like some of her sponsors had dissed her when she came out, and it wasn’t really like this big announcement, but when she started to be a little bit more truthful with her living situation and stuff like that â€¦ I do think she held some emotional issues with some of her sponsors at the time, but for the most part she has been very supportive of me, and she is a good friend.
AE: What was some of the advice she gave you when you were coming out?
RJ: I can’t remember right offhand, but it’s not just a matter of, "How do you live your life when you have been out?" It is also just a matter of once you come out, you can never go back. You can’t be like, "Oh, I just changed my mind; I’m not doing that anymore."
I talked with a lot of my friends about it, and it’s a personal thing, and it’s a different situation from being on tour. I think that most of us that are older and that haven’t been hiding our sexual orientation â€” we just kind of assume that people know that and it’s not that big of a deal.
AE: In the magazine Golf for Women, they had a great story, written by Lisa Mickey, on Patty Sheehan. It was a story about Patty and her family, and they didn’t mention the word "gay"; they just kept talking about Patty and her wife and her kids. That’s it. They didn’t even mention her coming-out.
RJ: Are you asking me if the LPGA is handling the situation a little bit better now?
AE: The LPGA gets labeled as a bunch of closet cases in the sports world.
RJ: There are reasons for that. It is just like in tennis. There are probably a lot more closet cases out there than you know of, and everybody is afraid of endorsement opportunity and those opportunities not being available to gays. And whether you think that it shouldn’t be that way, it might be. And I have definitely felt in the past that I was scrutinized or looked over because they assumed I was gay. Or dropped from an endorsement deal because I was gay.
I was a top player, and I was not getting endorsement deals that other, lesser players were getting. Part of that is sex appeal, and part of that is just the way you look or whatever. But, sure, players are careful about that [being out], and I was definitely careful about that or tried to be careful about that, but you get to a point in your life and your career when those things aren’t as important anymore, and that’s why, when the Olivia deal came up â€” I wouldn’t say that financially it wasn’t going to take me over to my retirement, but it was worth coming out and was something that I was tired of not addressing.
When I called the LPGA, I talked to the commissioner â€” at the time it was Ty Votaw â€” and I told him that I was going to be endorsed by a lesbian travel company and that I was going to be coming out publicly, and that it was going to happen, and that I hope you are going to support me in this.
I think it kind of took the pressure off of them, because they didn’t really know how to deal with lesbian issues out on tour. They were very helpful with the media and putting together press conferences and setting up interviews â€” just like this interview. Votaw said, "We don’t care; if you can play good golf and you exemplify the kind of exceptional golf that the LPGA represents, then we want you on our tour, and we don’t care if you are gay or straight or little or big or what."
I think it helped the situation for everybody, because somebody needed to come out while they were still playing and still active and take the pressure off coming out. And I felt really good about it, because we weren’t really addressing our gay fans out there. We were just totally not acknowledging them because everyone was so afraid that they would be guilty by association, and they would miss out on endorsements. It is going to take a little while before all of that gets cleared up, but it will.
AE: Since you have come out, you have picked up YES! putters [as a sponsor]. How did that work out?
RJ: Basically, every association that I had â€” every sponsor, every golf club, the organizations that I am a member of â€” I called them up and said, "This is what I’m doing, and I just want to let you know you have the opportunity to back out of our contract if you want to," and they said, "No way! We are proud of you! Go for it!" It was about a year later when I picked up YES! putters.
AE: Did you call them or did they approach you?
RJ: They called me.
AE: You don’t live on a golf course, and I saw in an interview that a lot of your neighbors, because they don’t golf, don’t know who you are.
RJ: I’ve met a lot more of them since I came out. The nice thing about me is that I have never been so famous that I can go pretty much anywhere I want to and maybe someone knows who I am, but when I am in the grocery store or anywhere else, I can remain pretty much anonymous. I used to joke that I worked in my front yard so much that my neighbors thought I was a landscaper.
AE: Did you have gay friends who felt exposed when you came out?
RJ: My gay friends felt a little bit exposed in a way, like I had exposed them too, and maybe because they felt guilt by association in that respect. Everyone has to deal with his or her own issues. If someone feels uncomfortable having a gay friend, whether they are straight or gay â€¦ that is something that they have got to deal with on their own, and you can’t really make that better for them.
AE: How does your family feel about you being out?
RJ: I’m not really close to my family, but we haven’t really lived in the same town since I left college.
AE: Recently, there have been issues of negative recruiting in the news, with coaches like basketball coach Rene Portland. Did you experience that as a college player at Ohio?
RJ: No, never! I never had any idea that coaches would even do that. I’m sure that schools had homophobic policies and coaches, and I can’t believe they got away with that.
AE: There was a dad who was worried about his daughter playing on tour because he was worried about his daughter turning into a lesbian.
RJ: To me, every gay and lesbian person in the world knows that â€” it is our parents’ fault. [Laughs.] There are a lot of different variables that go into it, but a lot of it is genetic. It’s silly for him to think that somebody â€” even an organization â€” could make somebody gay. That’s just ridiculous, and for any of us that have any intelligence at all — or any experience with gay people, whether we are gay or not — know that that can’t possibly happen.
I’ve been on Tour for 25 years, and you don’t see "gay activity." You know, it’s not like there are all these gay women lurking in the locker rooms. We change our shoes in the locker room, and occasionally there are people that are taking showers after a round to get on an airplane or because there is a party going on, but it is not like male locker rooms.
Even if it was, it would be so silly, because there are locker rooms and gyms all over the country, and you are going to say you can’t go to that gym because that gym will make you gay?
AE: What advice would you have for people coming out?
RJ: Everybody has their own personal readiness, as far as who they are, and I have been very comfortable ever since I came out when I was 19. As a matter of fact, I knew I was gay when I was about 8 years old and realized that it wasn’t really accepted all the way through my teens â€¦
AE: I know what you are saying.
RJ: You have to be in touch with who you are and be comfortable with that.
For more about Rosie Jones’ golf tours, go to www.rosiejones.com.