Towleroad Interview: John Amaechi

SP: What's your relationship today like with your former teammates? Have any of them ended the friendship because of your sexuality?

JA: I keep in touch with some, most don’t keep in touch and made it clear that they didn’t want people to think they were gay, some are gay and think I am too under scrutiny to be associated with without the risk that they are outed too. It is also fair to say that I might be just the kind of guy that whether straight or gay, my team mates didn’t want to keep in touch with – I can be difficult.

SP: Have you ever had any kind of romantic relationship with a player in the NBA?

JA: Not romantic, no.

SP: Since there's much homophobia in pro basketball, were you surprised to see Isiah Thomas and his son pose for the NOH8 Campaign?  

John2JA: I am not surprised, but pleased, I can’t say that Isaiah would be the person I thought of first! I thought maybe Grant Hill or Charles Barkley, but Isaiah and son have done a really positive thing.

SP: You revealed that spotting Ian McKellan at a gay pride parade in Manchester spurred you to come out publicly. Have you spoken to him about the effect he had on you?

JA: Oh yes….we did an event together and I turned into a blubbering, ineloquent idiot, telling such an intimate story to, essentially, a stranger… we have become friends since then, so I hope he doesn’t hold that first blub against me.

SP: How did it feel to recently shoot the first ever basket at the Olympic arena to be used in the 2012 games in London?

JA: Painful. I had just come off back surgery (two laminectomies and four discectomies) and was promised that I wouldn’t have to do anything more than shoot! But I have to say it was great to christen the new space and really great that my being gay was not even a part of any of the discussion as to whether I should or shouldn’t open the gym. That day and the recent gay games have made me want to play again – next gay games!

SP: Have any young people shared their own personal stories with you? If so, what has that been like for you?

JA: I cherish the moments when young people choose to share their stories. It feels to me like the most important thing a person can do is to listen to people when they feel able to tell you about their ideas, thoughts and aspirations. Interestingly, it isn’t just LGBT people who seem to feel their lives resonate with mine, but whether by email or in person, it is hands down the best part of being me.

SP: You went back to school to get your Ph.D in psychology because, as you put it, you wanted "to do something more meaningful in (your) life." Has it given you that feeling of meaningfulness?

JA: Absolutely, I feel like the sum of my experiences in addition to the academic backing makes me better able to work with my clients, people in general and take part in the debate on human rights. Along with my day job, I teach now, I work with the government to produce "white papers” (policy influencing documents) and speak at conferences. These academic aspects increase the opportunities to influence people and expand the human rights agenda. Frankly, I am also a total geek, so it just fits.

SP: You were the Gay Games Ambassador in Cologne this year. What was that experience like for you?

JA: Originally, not much, just a responsible thing to do. My experience at the gay games this year was. however, revelatory. I met the scholarship athletes who had been sponsored by the FGG to come to the games, from South Africa, Peru, Mexico, all over Eastern Europe, I heard their stories of oppression, derision, marginalisation and all to often physical abuse and intimidation. It was humbling to hear about their daily, struggle and it put "the plight" of gay, professional athletes in the west into perspective. I never had it so tough.

Also, I spend very little time around gay people in my daily work life. Most of my gay friends are dotted around the States and I have seen them infrequently in the last year, but being in Cologne around athletes who take sport as seriously as I once did, made me feel a great regret that my experience playing basketball wasn’t as rich as theirs clearly is now. I met many of the English football teams while there and am hoping they will adopt me, they were a blast to hang out with…I have made several resolutions since being at the gay games: to play more basketball, find a gay team to play with from time to time (not my own club, that just feels weird) and spend more time with my current friends and making new ones.