Podcasts: John Amaechi, Joe Johnson and more on being LGBT+ in sport

Choice cuts from recent episodes of Homo Sapiens, Level Playing Field, Same Team, and The Gay Footballer’s Podcast…

By Jon Holmes

Where would we be without our favourite podcasts? Not only are they essential accompaniments to any commute, but there’s also now a growing number that are sharing stories of LGBT+ inclusion in sport.

As you may have read previously, here at Sports Media LGBT+ we’ve recently been helping to promote Adam McCabe’s ‘Gay Footballer’s Podcast’ and Randy Boose’s ‘Level Playing Field’, in a bid to help more people discover their absorbing interviews with people connected to sport who are LGBT+.

So far, we’ve featured excerpts from episodes with Eric Radford, Ryan Atkin, and Tom Bosworth, to bring you a flavour of what each guest speaks about – hopefully you’ll listen to each in full, and recommend them to others too!

In this article, we’re going to round up some more recent podcast episodes – from the aforementioned pods, but also from Homo Sapiens and Same Team – and pull out some best bits. Read on for contributions from NBA player turned psychologist John Amaechi, figure skater Joe Johnson, college wrestler Justice Horn, volleyball player Chris Voth, and swimmer Alec Reitzel, and a special TGF Pod episode with Atlanta United’s Head of Technical Analysis and Recruitment, Lucy Rushton.

But quickly, before all that… a big congratulations to our friend and network member Jack Murley, the host of the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast. Jack’s show has been nominated in the ‘Best Sport’ category at the British Podcast Awards, which is deserved recognition of all the hard work he has put in. Well done Jack!

Recent episodes of the LGBT Sport Podcast have included interviews with Adam McCabe, triathlete Jack Bristow, and the former managing director of Leeds United, David Haigh.

Be sure to have a listen to those fascinating chats and if you’d like to learn more about Jack, check out our ’21 Questions With…’ feature interview with him from a few months back.

Now, on with our round-up…

John Amaechi (Homo Sapiens)

In this episode of Homo Sapiens, hosted by Will Young and Chris Sweeney, the featured guest is John Amaechi, who played nearly 300 games in the NBA for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz between 1995 and 2003 (with a few years back in Europe in between). In 2007, Amaechi released a book titled ‘Man In The Middle’ in which he discussed his experiences of being a closeted pro basketball player. He has since become a hugely respected psychologist, and an expert on inclusion and diversity. He was awarded an OBE in 2011.

During his chat with Young and Sweeney, Amaechi is asked about coming out publicly four years after his NBA career ended. He says…

I just had this conversation on Twitter with somebody that accused me of being a hypocrite, because I didn’t come out when I played. I was like, ‘you didn’t know… lots of people knew!’

Amaechi is then asked why he believes it is still the case that so few gay sportsmen are publicly out.

“There are lots of out men in sport – within it. How are people normally out, is the question… Most gay people decide who they’re out to, every single day. And that’s an inconvenience on the one hand, but for many people, it’s good self-preservation, because it means that in your workplace you haven’t had the conversation about your partner with the guy who’s always a dick to you, because why would you give them some ammunition? You haven’t told your boss because you know he’s a homophobe, and you would like to progress in this company because it’s good for you, and eventually you’ll be powerful enough to do something about it.

“So most people are out to the people they are connected with and care about. It’s something you earn, because when you come out to somebody… people always make this mistake with coming out, whether it’s a disclosure about your sexuality or anything else. When you reveal stuff that’s about you to other people, especially about your identity, people mistake it as a statement about the individual disclosing – and it’s not.

“When you come out to somebody, it’s a statement about the person you’re disclosing it to. I’m saying to you, ‘here in my hand is a precious piece of my identity, I give it to you knowing that you will take as good a care of it as I do.’ It’s a profound statement about the people around you.”

Amaechi explains how coming out publicly, like Young did in 2002 and as he did after retiring from basketball, is “different”…

Because you then throw your precious identity into the hands of people you know will want to throw it against a tree. It’s a very difficult thing. So in sports, there are a ton of people who are out.

Amaechi says that although he wants LGBT people to come out, he also appreciates fully that their individual circumstances may mean that that’s not the best decision for them…

“Being out is better than being in – always – and what you should do is find an environment where you can make a connection with somebody, and be out. And that shouldn’t always be a club or a bar, that should be, find friends that you connect with, that you can share who you are in a genuine way.

“In sport, I look at some of the people, and think ‘your occupation is your definition – you are what you do’. You asked me earlier, why in this country do basketball people not look at me like I’m a big deal, as one of the few NBA players? In part, I think it’s because they can’t juxtapose the idea that I’m a gay person with the fact that I was an elite sports star.

“One of the most depressing things that I experience, even though I don’t overvalue my career in sport, is… I started playing basketball when I was 17. Six years later, I was starting in the NBA. But if you ask people about John Amaechi, in sport, what will they tell you? They’ll say ‘oh, he’s the gay one’… To make my way in sport, all the narrative is I’m the gay one.”

Follow John on Twitter at @JohnAmaechi, Will at @willyoung, and Chris at @mrchrissweeney

Joe Johnson (Same Team)

In October 2018, Nick McCarvel tweeted a pic of Joe Johnson and his figure skating partner Karina Manta at Skate America in Seattle, mentioning in the text that they were both LGBTQ+. Johnson and Manta have been together as a team since 2014 but it’s only this season that both have been out. “I love my gay parents,” tweeted Adam Rippon in reply. “We love you too son,” responded Joe. Rainbow flag emojis in every post. Two pride flags were unfurled in the arena.

Here Joe discusses his friendship with Karina, in a conversation with Dan Trainor for Same Team, and his surprise when she first told him that she was bi…

“I honestly did not see it coming whatsoever! Which is hilarious, because I thought I knew everything about her and I obviously don’t. It’s different when you don’t identify with monosexuality. The nice thing about being gay is that, first of all it’s a lot more easy to get taken seriously as a gay man, than it is to be a lesbian woman. Sometimes lesbianism in a larger context societally, a lot of the time is seen as transient because they’re like ‘oh, why wouldn’t they be attracted to men?’ And it’s hilarious, because the second you come out as gay they’re like ‘oh, they would never lie about being attracted to men!’ which is incredibly patriarchal and shitty. It’s just like a weird thing.

“So Karina and I were talking about this for a long time before even she came out, we were talking about different challenges for different queer folks, and so when she came out as bi, there are even certain ‘subgroups’ of queer people who don’t take bi people seriously. They’re like, ‘oh it’s a phase’, ‘it’s one or the other’, ‘it makes it sound like it’s a choice’.. for bi people, they can be attracted to multiple genders, and for gay folks, we’re attracted to one. The rhetoric surrounding ‘oh, it’s not a choice, it’s not a choice’… but for some queer people it is! It’s like they’ve got to be taken seriously too, so that was a challenge for her.

“So just coming to terms with all that, it was just really nice to have each other – especially after she came out. I came out before Karina, and so by the time she got there, I was already gay. I never really had to explain my identity to her. She just accepted me very readily, she’s extremely open-minded. It’s helped both of us along I think, in terms of our identities, but honestly she just has such a thorough understanding of where she’s at, and it’s always something that she’s going to be thinking about and re-evaluating, because identity is just such a complicated and multi-faceted thing. Both of us being queer people has kind of enriched our friendship I think.”

Follow Joe on Twitter at @JoeJohnsonIce and on Instagram at @joejohnsonice.

Justice Horn (Level Playing Field)

Justice Horn was on the wrestling team at Northern State University in South Dakota when, in summer 2018, he first spoke publicly about being a gay athlete. He grew up in Blue Springs, a suburb of Kansas City in Missouri, and initially came out to his team-mates in his freshman year at high school. He was inspired by a fellow Missouri athlete, the NFL player Michael Sam, who had first shared his story with the media as a draftee in February 2014. The Orlando nightclub shooting in June 2016 also had a big impact on Horn, who transferred to Northern from West Virginia Tech in the fall of 2017.

Justice shared his story with HuffPost and also Outsports last summer. He’s now the Student Body President-Elect at the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC).

Here, Justice describes to Level Playing Field host Randy Boose how the sudden death of a team-mate, who passed away in his sleep due to an enlarged heart, had a profound effect on the NSU wrestling community, and eventually led him to re-evaluate his own visibility as a gay athlete, and to be more active politically…

“The month after that happening, we were a week out from our first competition, I remember… just not sleeping that whole week. And just thinking, is this something that I really want to do for the rest of my life? Because of the death of my friend, it was a life check. It showed me how short life could be, how short things could be taken from me, and how things can change in an instant. So I remember thinking, is this something that… I really enjoy doing? I really enjoyed wrestling, and my team-mates and my coaches, but I didn’t feel like I was giving back to the world, and leaving a footprint in the world, and making the world a better place. Because if I was taken tomorrow, I would just be known as a wrestler – that’s all that would be known.”

Follow Justice on Twitter at @JusticeHorn_ and on Instagram at @justicehorn.

Andrew Ford (Level Playing Field)

In March 2019, Andrew wrote for Outsports about his experiences as a college soccer player in Ohio who is bisexual. He grew up in Zanesville, and later moved to Malone University in Canton to study and play soccer (he’s a defender). Malone is a Christian college but one that Andrew knew to be LGBTQ friendly before he moved there. He shared his truth with his close friends initially, before coming out as bi to more of his peers in an Instagram post in July 2018.

Here Andrew is asked about the positive effect that coming out had, both on his wellbeing and on his sports performance…

“When I came out to my team, especially Jordan [Andrew’s room-mate and team-mate], you walk onto the field, you walk into practices, you walk into the gym – especially the gym – and you know, you’re lifting differently… and it really is, that’s so true, that’s so so true. I think whenever you better yourself by admitting anything, I feel like that’s going to improve your life in every single aspect, and for an athlete that’s definitely on the field. And for me, that was the same thing.”

Andrew relays some heart-warming stories about dating – on one occasion, before he came out, bumping into his team-mates at the cinema while with a guy he’d been seeing!

Follow Andrew on Twitter at @AndrewJFord and on Instagram at @drewjamesford

Chris Voth (Level Playing Field)

Pro volleyball player Chris became Canada’s first openly gay athlete for a national sports team when he came out in an article in the Winnipeg Free Press in 2014, then aged 23. Since then, he’s regularly used his platform to help further the conversation on inclusion – even when learning from his agent that, on one occasion, a volleyball club had pulled out of contract talks as they didn’t want the “risk” of having a gay athlete on their team. He’s played professionally for clubs in the Netherlands, Finland and the Czech Republic. Now 28, he’s currently in a second spell with Abiant Lycurgus, the Dutch Eredivisie champions based in Groningen.

Here, Chris speaks to LPF host Randy Boose about a concern of his amid the increased visibility of gay athletes…

“You do see more athletes coming out. Something though that was a bit of an issue during [the 2016 Olympics in] Rio – and I wrote an article about it – was the difference between men and women that came out. It was a much higher percentage of women came out, and then about half of those out women were on team sports; and for men, it was a very small amount that came out, and the ones that did were all individual sports. So even though there were athletes out, the male team sports were still very under-represented. And I think that that still shows that there’s some sort of issue, or something else going on, in the sport culture that still needs to be addressed, and still improved.”

Follow Chris on Twitter at @vothster, on Facebook at @vothster, or on Instagram at @chrisvoth.

Alec Reitzel (Same Team)

Alec was a business student and swim captain at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, North Carolina, the same town in which he grew up. After struggling with his sexuality throughout his teenage years and into his early 20s, Alec gradually came out to friends and team-mates and having graduated in 2015, he wrote an article for Outsports in January 2019 detailing his experiences. He now lives in Charleston, South Carolina, with his fiance Michael.

In his chat with Dan Trainor on Same Team, he talks about an internship he took in Florence four years ago, and how it encouraged him to come out to his family…

“It ended up being an incredible experience. I was there for a little over three months, and made some amazing friends… I just started telling people that I was gay, and some of their reactions were just so funny – they were like, ‘duh’. I remember one guy was like ‘Alec, we know, I just really want to decide where we’re going to dinner’!

“It was so out of sight, out of mind, to them. I was like ‘wow, this is how it could be’.

“I told myself towards the end of my trip, you’re going to come home and you’re going to come out and say you’re gay – which is what I did. I told my mum, ‘I’m gay, I’ve always been gay, I’ll always be gay’ and it was a little difficult at first for her, but now she’s the world’s biggest advocate for the community. She helped start a PFLAG chapter. I had full support from my mum, and my dad didn’t care… I told the people that I wanted to tell.

“I was in my last year of grad school, and I was still a coach. I needed to be somewhat smart – I did go to a Lutheran college – but Lutherans are kind of liberal. So other than treading carefully, who I told, who I didn’t tell… I started dating, I discovered Tinder, and that is how I met my fiance. We’re a Tinder success story!”

You can follow Alec on Instagram at @reitz_crackaaa.

Lucy Rushton (The Gay Footballer’s Podcast)

TGF Pod host Adam McCabe explains more about this special episode…

“When I first started this podcast, I wanted it to predominantly be me interviewing individuals who worked in soccer but identified as LGBTQ. Along the way, I knew things could get repetitive, so I also periodically will include an episode of something that just interests me as a gay footballer. And this is one of those episodes.”

Lucy is the Head of Technical Recruitment and Analysis at Atlanta United FC. Born in Reading, she worked at her hometown club and then at Watford before being hired by Atlanta in January 2016. Having made the trip across the Atlantic to take what is a dream job, she went on to play a key role behind the scenes as United stormed to MLS Cup glory last December in only their second season. Adam adds…

Lucy’s really inspiring to me as someone who has worked in analytics before and just looking to see how I can use those tools and that trade in terms of my passion of soccer.

Follow Lucy on Twitter at @lucyrushton12.

Thanks to Dan at Same Team, Randy at LPF, and Adam at TGF Pod.

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Interested in potentially sharing your personal story of being LGBT+ in sport, in order to help inspire others? Get in touch with me at jon@sportsmedialgbt.com – here to offer support and advice.

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