Three years after retiring from the NBA, former center John Amaechi publicly acknowledged his homosexuality. In his autobiography, Man in the Middle, John reveals what it was like to live a secret life while being in the public eye. Gayle talks to John about his book and his decision to speak out.
Man in the Middle has sparked controversy because John is the first NBA player to publicly come out and say that he is gay. Although he wasn't expecting the news to make international headlines, John says he has no regrets about going public with his secret. "I knew that I had something of value to say, and I knew that I wanted to try and be, not necessarily a vanguard, but a role model. … I just didn't think I would have the opportunity to have this kind of massive platform, but I'm really going to embrace that," he says.
Despite the buzz being generated by his book, few other athletes have shown John public support. John says he understands people's reluctance to step forward because supporters fear being labeled gay themselves. In general, he says the reaction to his coming out has been like "the sound of a thousand shoulders shrugging." "It doesn't make much noise," John says.
John says he's also received some negative responses and criticism—the very sort that makes it difficult for a gay man or woman to come out in the first place. "Those are the people that pollute the atmosphere, those are the people that make it so it feels unsafe on not just a physical level, but on an emotional and psychological level for you to stand up and be counted," he says.
Growing up, John says he felt awkward and overweight, and was ridiculed for his tall height. He says he had a feeling he was gay around the age of 9 or 10, but didn't even admit it to himself until he was in his 20s. He says the fear of being rejected by fans and loved ones compelled him to keep his sexual orientation a secret. "I put my personal life in a box for a long time, I literally put it in a box and metaphorically shoved it under the bed so that I never had to worry about it."
John says he doesn't consider himself brave for speaking out, but he hopes his book will inspire others who might be in a similar situation. "If I can be that little nudge, that connection that makes it easier for them to come out in their own way, that would be a beautiful thing," he says.
Printed from Oprah.com on Sunday, December 8, 2013