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Swoopes, Sheryl (b. 1971)  
page: 1  2  

Swoopes filed for divorce in 1999 and established a chosen family consisting of her son, Scott, and herself. Young Jordan calls Swoopes "Mommy 1" and Scott "Mommy 2."

Sports fans had no inkling of the new turn in Swoopes's life. Her off-court image remained one of a conventional heterosexual mother, dévotée of shopping malls, and an aficionada of red nail polish.

Swoopes became the national spokesperson for the RSV (respiratory synctial virus) Public Service Campaign in 1999. Although her own son did not suffer from the virus, Swoopes empathized with mothers whose children did, and she embraced the opportunity to educate people about the disease and its treatment.

A knee injury sidelined Swoopes for the entire 2001 season, but upon her return to play in 2002, her superlative performance earned her both Defensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards. She was also named Defensive Player of the Year in 2003.

Swoopes won her third Olympic gold medal at the Athens games in 2004 and continued as a dominating force in the WNBA, earning Most Valuable Player honors again in 2005. Sports reporter W. H. Stickney, Jr. wrote that Swoopes was "playing like a woman possessed" that year, calling her performance "a tribute to the mental part of the game." Indeed, Swoopes has always approached basketball analytically, stressing the importance of being a complete player, working on fundamentals, and being in good condition.

Swoopes's announcement of her lesbianism in 2005 was a bold step. Although lesbians are strong supporters of the WNBA and some teams recognize them with dedicated games, only two players, Sue Wicks and Michele Van Gorp, had previously acknowledged publicly that they were lesbians.

Swoopes had been out to her family for several years before making her public statement. Her mother, to whom Swoopes has always been extremely close, was troubled by the news.

Swoopes reported that her mother "cried and wondered why and what she did wrong," but Swoopes reassured her that "she raised me to be a very good kid, a very strong, independent, powerful black woman, and I just happen to be in love with another woman, and it had nothing to do with anything she did wrong."

Despite her initial dismay, Louise Swoopes has maintained her close relationship with her daughter.

Sheryl Swoopes stated that she had discussed her impending coming-out announcement with WNBA headquarters and received their support. Her principal sponsor, Nike, also responded positively; a representative said that "the company was happy to have Swoopes as one of its athletes."

Swoopes's public announcement of her lesbianism coincided with her endorsement contract with the San Francisco-based lesbian travel agency Olivia.

"We had wanted to endorse a WNBA athlete for some time," said Olivia's CEO, Amy Errett. The opportunity arose when Swoopes booked an Olivia cruise. Errett quickly commenced negotiations for Swoopes to join the impressive roster of celebrities who take part in Olivia cruises, including tennis great Martina Navratilova, golfer Rosie Jones, and musicians the Indigo Girls and Meg/Shambhavi Christian.

Swoopes's relationship with Scott was, stated Lori Riley of the Hartford Courant, "not a secret in the WNBA." Disclosing it to the nation, however, required an act of courage. Pat Griffin, professor emerita at the University of Massachusetts and author of Strong Women, Deep Closets: Lesbians and Homophobia in Sport, stated, "There's such a big leap, people knowing in a big way, having it be public . . . . We know there are lesbians in women's sports, but there is still a lot of prejudice. It's still a potentially dangerous piece of information to give out."

Sheryl Swoopes has shown the courage to present this piece of information. Her heroics on the basketball court have earned her numerous awards, including most recently being voted a member of the WNBA's "all-decade team" in 2006. Her coming out is equally worthy of accolades.

Linda Rapp

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arts >> Overview:  Sports: Lesbian

Although lesbians and athletics have long been identified with each other, lesbian athletes, despite great achievements, still face numerous obstacles.

arts >> Amaechi, John

Closeted throughout his professional basketball career, John Amaechi is the first player from the National Basketball Association to acknowledge that he is gay; since coming out, he has become an eloquent spokesman for glbtq rights.

arts >> Christian, Meg

Women's music pioneer Meg Christian was among the first performer to address lesbian and feminist issues in her songs.

arts >> Jones, Rosie

Golfer Rosie Jones enjoyed great success both as an amateur and a professional; since her public coming out in 2004 she has helped increase glbtq visibility in sports.

arts >> Navratilova, Martina

One of the greatest tennis players in history, Martina Navratilova has become an outspoken supporter of gay and lesbian rights.

arts >> Sheehan, Patty

Hall of Fame golfer Patty Sheehan, who came out as a lesbian at the height of her career, continues to excel on the LPGA Legends tour.


Berry, Lorraine. "One on One with: Sheryl Swoopes." GBall (February 28, 2000): 6.

Feldman, Claudia. "Where Does Sheryl Swoopes Go from Here?" Texas Magazine (July 11, 1993): 10.

Knapp, Gwen. "Women's Basketball Star Exits Closet." San Francisco Chronicle (October 27, 2005): A1.

Riley, Lori. "Swoopes Goes Public; WNBA Standout Reveals Lesbian Relationship." Hartford Courant (Connecticut) (October 27, 2005): C1.

Robbins, Liz. "Swoopes Says She Is Gay, and Exhales." New York Times (October 27, 2005): D1.

Rubin, Courntey. "'I Don't Want to Feel Like I Can't Be Who I Am': WNBA Superstar Sheryl Swoopes Goes Public with Her Love." People Weekly 64.19 (November 7, 2005): 87.

Saracevic, Alan T. "Swoopes' Revelation Pays Off." San Francisco Chronicle (October 30, 2005): J1.

Stickney, W. H., Jr. "Swoopes Fights to Regain Her Desire." Houston Chronicle (June 6, 2003): Sports, 8.

______. "Swoopes Still Has Some Pep in Her Steps; A WNBA Staple Since Its Debut, Comets Forward Takes Court with Renewed Passion." Houston Chronicle (July 30, 2005): Sports, 10.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Swoopes, Sheryl  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2005  
    Date Last Updated February 16, 2009  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc.  


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