When Sheryl Swoopes emerged from the closet in 2005, she said that she wasn’t trying to be a hero or a role model.
“I’m just at a point in my life where I’m tired of having to pretend to be somebody I’m not,” she told ESPN The Magazine. “I’m tired of having to hide my feelings about the person I care about. About the person I love.”
“It doesn’t change who I am. I can’t help who I fall in love with. No one can.”
Who she fell in love with was Alisa “Scottie” Scott, a former assistant coach for Swoopes’ original WNBA team the Houston Comets. And the pair seemed to be very much in love.
Over the next few years, Swoopes was a spokesperson for Olivia Cruises and frequently appeared at LGBT fundraisers. I met her at a Lambda Legal brunch in Dallas; she and Alisa both were quite warm and open. I had been around Sheryl the previous year when she played for the Dallas Fury, a NWBL league, and she seemed a lot more happy and relaxed than she was then (when she was still closeted).
The two were still together when Swoopes played for the Seattle Storm; Scottie and Sheryl’s son Jordan frequently attended practices and games.
When Swoopes returned to the WNBA this season as part of the Tulsa Shock, she didn’t talk about Scottie. The couple had been together long enough that I didn’t think much about it, to be honest. I just assumed they were still living happily ever after.
Not so. In fact, we learned over the weekend that Sheryl is in a different relationship — with a man. She is engaged to Chris Unclesho, someone she’s known for years. Swoopes’ Facebook page displays a picture of the couple and lists an anniversary date of March 25, 2011. I assume that’s the date they got engaged.
I tried to find some mention of Scottie and Swoopes’ breakup, with no luck. But given some of the things Sheryl said when she came out, I guess I shouldn’t be as surprised as I am that her sexuality is fluid.
Swoopes never accepted the notion that she was born gay. Nor did she think that being married to a man meant she was bisexual. Outsports.com talked to her a few days after her ESPN coming out interview.
“I’m not bisexual,” she said. “I don’t think I was born [gay]. Again, it was a choice. As I got older, once I got divorced, it wasn’t like I was looking for another relationship, man or woman. I just got feelings for another woman. I didn’t understand it at the time, because I had never had those feelings before.”
She did, however, eventually get comfortable with calling herself gay. “After being [with Alisa] for three to four years and not having feelings for another man is when I understood who I really was.”
Or, more accurately, who she was at the time.
I don’t blame Swoopes for not having a sort of reverse coming out party. This news will bring up a lot of feelings in the lesbian community, some of which will not be pleasant. But Sheryl has no regrets about her relationship with Scotty.
“There is nothing I’ve been through in my life that I regret, or that I would go back and change,” she told Mechelle Voepel. “I feel like everything that happened — personally and professionally — I went through for a reason, and I learned from those things.”
Admittedly, I am not thrilled to learn that Sheryl is with a man. I don’t feel betrayed or anything, just a little sad — not for her, but for myself. Whenever an admired woman comes out as a lesbian, our community benefits. We like knowing that someone who is talented, respected and beautiful is a member of our tribe. (Please understand that I am not bashing bisexuals at all. Sheryl stated that she was not bisexual. She identified as a lesbian.)
But we need to remember that Sheryl is exactly the same fabulous basketball player — and woman — that she was when she was with Scotty. And she was the same person with Scotty as she was when she was married to Jordan’s dad. She was being true to herself and her happiness when she came out as a lesbian — and she is doing so now.
The fact remains that Sheryl Swoopes paved the way for other LGBT athletes to come out. And regardless of where Sheryl’s path takes her, those of us who love lesbians and sports will be forever grateful for her courage.
Will you join me in wishing her the best?