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Few criticize Swoopes' revelations

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PHILADELPHIA - When WNBA superstar Sheryl Swoopes, the three-time most valuable player from the Houston Comets, became the first high-profile member of a pro team to declare his or her homosexuality, reaction for the most part ranged from favorable to muted.

Yes, there was the negative, but most of that could be found on male-dominated sports talk radio and television.

Penn women's basketball coach Pat Knapp said: "I didn't think much of anything when I heard it," then declined to comment further.

Temple coach Dawn Staley, Swoopes' teammate with USA Basketball and the 2005 Comets, declined to say anything at all.

Privacy issues proved to be the rallying cry for some.

"Human sexuality is a private matter," DePaul women's basketball coach Doug Bruno said at the Big East media day last week.

"If we're going to talk, let's talk about the Minnesota Vikings, who made it a public matter," Bruno added, referring to reports that members of the NFL team were involved in a sex party on a chartered boat earlier this month.

"I don't see the players at Minnesota shaking the bedrock and foundation of the NFL," he said. "So let's get on with life here. This is America, and people have the right to make their own private choices."

The WNBA issued a short statement from first-year president Donna Orender calling Swoopes' announcement "a non-issue for us.

"Sheryl Swoopes is a great basketball player who has and continues to entertain our fans all over the world. We wish for her only the best."

Swoopes, who revealed last week that she had been secretly living a gay existence the last seven years, also said she had a relationship during that time with Alisa Scott, a former Comets assistant coach.

Swoopes indicated that she never discussed her relationship with the 40-year-old Scott with Comets coach Van Chancellor, nor did she inform him in advance of her revelation.

The reaction from Chancellor, who has coached Swoopes for nine years - in Houston as well as with the 2002 World Championship USA gold-medal team and the Olympic gold-medal-winning team in Athens, Greece, a year ago?

"What she does in her personal life is her own decision," Chancellor said in a statement. "I respect everything about Sheryl, how she's handled herself on and off the court. To me, she will always be one of the greatest ambassadors for the game of women's basketball, and a person who has helped me win four championships and two gold medals."

The Comets won the first four WNBA titles, from 1997 to 2000, although Swoopes missed most of the first championship season because she was pregnant.

During the WNBA's initial high-powered marketing thrust, a very pregnant Swoopes was displayed on the cover of one national magazine. She was married at the time to her high school sweetheart.

Divorced in 1998, Swoopes befriended Scott soon after, seeking emotional support. The two eventually became more seriously involved.

Swoopes' revelation came at a time when some segments of women's sports still wrestle with the sexual-preference issue.

Currently, Penn State coach Rene Portland is under investigation by the school after a player charged that Portland perceived her to be a lesbian and dismissed her from the team.

Portland was set to receive the Renaissance Award for local leadership Thursday night from an organization in State College that issues financial aid to Penn State students who are academically talented.

As for Swoopes, she will have the rest of her life to measure whether views of her as a pioneer, team leader and role model changed somewhat, if at all, last week.

As for the league she helped build, perhaps Connecticut Sun general manager Chris Sienko put it best when he told reporters last week:

"People appreciate us for basketball. We're not for a clique or a group or a lifestyle. We're basketball, and that fits all demographics.

"Does (Swoopes' revelation) change us? No. Does it change the perception of the league? No. She did what she felt she needed to."


(c) 2005, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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