Former basketball star John Amaechi says homophobia remains a “massive problem” in sport, especially football.
Amaechi, who came out as the first openly gay NBA player after retirement, spoke out after receiving the Order of the British Empire for services to sport and the voluntary sector from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace.
He said: “I think people approach bigotry like there’s a hierarchy. Homophobia has always been to the bottom of that ladder. “In sport there are institutions that haven’t changed in 100 years and need to.”
The star added that the Football Association had failed to counter the issue. “If you compare their emphasis on racism to what they’ve done on homophobia it’s an embarrassment,” he said. “There are people in the FA who aren’t that pleased with the idea of women in the boardroom, never mind gay people.”
Amaechi is supporting a new HIV programme aimed at African communities in the UK. The 40-year-old, who has Nigerian heritage, launched the three-year Terrence Higgins Trust programme last month.
A reminder from John Amaechi's press release in June, when the OBE was announced:
London, 11 June 2011 – The NBA basketball player-turned-social entrepreneur John Amaechi has been awarded the Order of the British Empire for his services to sport and to the voluntary sector, it was announced in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, released today. The awards, which recognise outstanding merit and service, are published twice a year, at the beginning of the new year and on the Queen’s official birthday.
When he first picked up a basketball at the age of 17 John Amaechi was told that he was ‘too late for the game’ and ‘not athletic enough’. Proving both these assessments wrong, he went on to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets in the National Basketball Association. He lead England’s Basketball squad to its first-ever international medal, at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006. In 2007 he published an autobiography, Man in the Middle, which became a New York Times bestseller.
In the UK, John works with his own charity, the Amaechi Basketball Centre, as well as local and national government to create a network of holistic community and sporting centres for urban communities. He has also worked closely with the Centre for Social Justice on social cohesion and ensuring a social return on investment.
Since his retirement from basketball John has pursued a PhD in psychology and is a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and of the British Psychological Society (BPS). Today he works with medium to large institutions to help them maximise their human capital.
After serving as a sporting ambassador for Amnesty International at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 John has become a Amnesty International Ambassador. He is also a director of the Diversity Board of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, which sets the strategy for the procurement, recruitment and standards for every employee, supplier and volunteer for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games effort.
John Amaechi said: “I am deeply honoured by this recognition by Her Majesty the Queen. I believe that much of my success is directly attributable to my family and close friends who have always supported me, as well as to those individuals and organisations with whom I have been privileged to partner over the years, to promote equality and human rights here in the UK and across the world.
“I see this honour as a chance to reach out and do more to create an equality of opportunity for all people, but especially to inspire young people. I was once an overweight bookworm who hid in the corner of my school library and wished I was invisible. My Mother told me that I could do better than just disappear – she convinced me that the most unlikely of people, in the most improbable of situations can become extraordinary. I hope to use this platform to convince other young people just how true this can be for them too.”
Commenting on the news, David Stern, Commissioner of the National Basketball Association, said: “John Amaechi is an inspiration to millions, and a great ambassador for his country and the sport of basketball. As a consummate professional during his playing days and through his continued community service, John truly represents the ideals of the NBA. On behalf of the entire NBA family, I want to congratulate John. I can think of no one more deserving of such a prestigious honor.”
Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said: “Amnesty International has worked with John Amaechi for a number of years, across a variety of areas of work. We have enjoyed his support, contribution and enthusiasm in a range of human rights campaigning.
“John is always willing to speak out for human rights, and has generously used his profile to highlight injustices, such as China’s restrictions on freedom and to the dire state of human rights. Most recently John was one of our judges at our prestigious media awards, which recognise excellence in human rights reporting.
“John works closely with Amnesty on LGBT rights, and often acts as a spokesperson on these issues. He is dedicated to ensuring that the world of sport operates within a human rights ethos, and to promoting a greater understanding of human rights in all sports.”
“John Amaechi is renowned as a sportsman, yet he is also a successful and devoted campaigner who continues to be a thoughtful advocate of the rights of others.”