Houston Comets player and one of women’s basketball’s biggest stars became the second openly gay player in the WNBA when she came out this week.
In an interview with ESPN magazine that hit stands today, Swoopes explains her motivation for coming out now. “It’s not something that I want to throw in people’s faces,” Swoopes said, but “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.”
Although she doesn’t name her partner in the ESPN interview, she tells The Advocate (in an interview due out shortly), that the woman is former Comets assistant coach Alisa Scott (aka “Scotty”), who resigned from the Comets organization in January after eight seasons, reportedly due to the conflict of interest presented by her relationship with Swoopes. Their seven-year relationship has been an open secret in the WBNA, but never discussed publicly or in the press.
34-year old Swoopes has an 8-year-old son (from a previous marriage that ended in 1998) whom she and Scott are raising together. Asked by the Advocate whether she considers herself lesbian or bisexual, Swoopes says, “I just consider myself a person. I don’t consider myself bisexual. The relationship I’m in right now, I hope, is the relationship I’ll be in for the rest of my life.”
But she is also insistent that her marriage didn’t end because she was gay. “In college I was never with a woman,” she said in a new interview with People magazine. “I had a boyfriend, and the thought of it never crossed my mind. I always had gay friends and we were cool. We hung out. But I didn’t think about women that way. My marriage was beautiful, but we were both young, and we both grew up and went our separate ways. I tried to make it work, but I wasn’t happy anymore.”
Then, she met Scott. “I never really meant for [our relationship] to happen,” Swoopes told the New York Times. “It did, and after a while it got to a point, I am not going to try to fight this anymore…. I was basically living a lie. For the last seven, eight years, I was basically waiting to exhale.”
A graduate of Texas Tech University, Swoopes is a five-time WNBA All-Star who has won three Olympic gold medals and leads the league in MVP titles. She has played for the Comets since 1997, and was one of the first players signed by the WNBA when the league formed in 1996.
Part of the impetus for coming out is a new endorsement deal with lesbian travel company Olivia Travel (the official sponsor of tennis great Martina Navratilova and pro golfer Rosie Jones). In addition to Olivia, Swoopes also has had a major endorsement deal with Nike for several years, which even has a shoe named after her.
When asked by ESPN if she feared losing endorsements from companies like Nike, Swoopes said “I don’t want that to happen. Being gay has nothing to do with the three gold medals or the three MVPs or the four championships I’ve won. I’m still the same person. I’m Sheryl.”
Nike appears to agree: Nike marketing manager Raye Pond told the press shortly after Swoopes’s announcement that the company is happy to have Swoopes as one of its athletes.
Of Swoopes decision to come out publicly, Comets coach Van Chancellor said: “What she does in her personal life is her own decision. I respect everything about Sheryl.” WNBA President Donna Orender said in a statement, “Sheryl’s lifestyle choice is a non-issue for us.”