The big news in the NBA this week was Jason Collins coming out as the first actively gay male athlete in professional team sports in the United States. The announcement was met with generally positive comments and support from the NBA and players around the league.
Collins has taken this unprecedented step at a time when homosexuality is widely accepted in American society and the push for marriage equality is gaining steam — even Paul Ryan, the super conservative Wisconsin senator who was Mitt Romney's running mate in the previous Presidential election, came out this week in support of adoption for gay couples.
It is a major change in the last decade and a sign of progress of acceptance and tolerance within this country. Certainly, a decade ago the mood would have been different.
That was the atmosphere that John Amaechi was playing in when he was a member of the Magic from 2000-01 (two seasons). Amaechi, in his book Man in the Middle, in which he described being a closeted gay man in an NBA locker room, suspected that his career abruptly ended in Utah because of homophobic feelings within the organization.
When Amaechi came out as gay in 2007, the reaction was one of near shock. It was still a completely foreign concept in sports. The mood had changed however, as Tim Hardaway was reviled for homophobic comments he made on a local radio station in Miami. Hardaway, to his credit, has reformed his views and is more accepting now, admitting his ignorance in his past.
Amaechi has been making the radio rounds, providing his usually perceptive and witty commentary on the issue and current events. He was on with Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel on his Open Mike show on 740 The Game on Wednesday to talk about Collins and his experience.
There, Amaechi revealed he suspected Magic teammates knew he was gay and they "took care of" him. It seems even a decade ago, locker rooms were more understanding than originally suspected.
I just thought I would lose my job. My teammates knew. We didn't talk about, but they knew. … My teammates took care of me.
As this interview reveals, we need to find other reasons to talk to Amaechi because he is just a nice and gracious guy and a very entertaining interview.
The Magic have been at the crossroads of issues like this before, not just with Amaechi.
During the summer, a marriage equality rights organization announced a boycott of Amway products and subsidiaries, including the Orlando Magic, because of a donation the DeVos family had made to the National Organization for Marriage, an organization against marriage equality.
Amaechi recognized in his interview with Bianchi that DeVos' political stances made him uncomfortable to come out. He said there was "no overt homophobia in Orlando" with his teammates. That is welcomed to hear.
This issue is still developing and there is still a lot of work to do to realize marriage equality.
What was important that Amaechi noted was that Heart & Hustle team especially was special for accepting him in the locker room as a teammate and expecting the same thing out of him that they would expect from anyone else — that they play hard and play for the team.