It takes guts to come out in this world. Swoopes’ announcement makes her the most prominent team athlete to say that she’s gay in the history of modern American sports, the only one to do so while still at her peak — and the first African-American professional athlete to do so, period.
…The fact is that Swoopes’ bravery has the potential to cost her plenty in terms of her league’s support, her reputation, endorsements, professional future, and the love and admiration of her fans. For years now, the WNBA’s marketing strategy has read like a master plan for convincing parents that hoops won’t turn their little girls queer. There’s a very real possibility that now the league will choose to downplay what has previously been Swoopes’ fairly prominent role as a spokesperson. When Swoopes says that her “biggest concern is that people are going to look at my homosexuality and say to little girls — whether they’re white, black, Hispanic — that I can’t be their role model anymore,” her fears aren’t baseless.
Swoopes is taking a genuine risk with her earning potential and her professional future by coming out. She isn’t a male professional athlete with an eight-figure salary and lucrative endorsement deals. She plays for a league where even the top draft pick rookie maxes out at $50,000 per season, a few superstars make the top salary of $87,000, and the members of each year’s championship team earn a measly $10,000 bonus. And while many of the top WNBA players are retiring from the league into college coaching careers, none have done so as out lesbians in an environment where lesbian-baiting remains an issue.
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