I remember back when the WNBA league first started they spent an inordinate amount of time profiling the players and emphasizing their femininity and marital/motherhood statuses-- something they don't do for the men-- to make it clear they weren't a bunch of dykes. Meanwhile going to a WBNA game in places like DC, LA or NYC was like going to a lesbian pride event. In its early days the league was definitely trying to appear "wholesome" and "family-friendly" by downplaying the visibility of the lesbian players and fans and there was a lot of tension between the two.
In a word, Sheryl Swoopes rocks. She's been named MVP several times and has a few Olympic gold medallions to call her own. She joins the ranks of a few other lesbian atheletes-- Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, professional female golfers -- although I'm pretty sure she's the first black lesbian athlete. From the sound of this article, Swoopes may have accidently outed herself when she and her partner signed up for an Olivia cruise, a lesbian cruiseline. When Olivia noticed her name they contacted her and asked her if she wanted to become a spokeswoman for the company. From there she decided to do it and come out of the closet.
It'll be interesting to see what impact this news has on her other endorsements, if any. (Swoopes the only woman to have a shoe named for her, Nike's Air Swoopes.) I think it's also possible that it won't get too much press. It's pretty well established that lesbianism isn't treated like male homosexuality-- we're usually not portrayed as predatory, mostly we're ignored or serve as fantasy-fodder. Add that to the fact that women's sports are largely ignored anyways and this isn't likely to be that big of a story. (Although in contrast, when Martina came out she lost a lot.) Well, except for the fact that she plays for the Houston Comets. This might not go over so well in Texas.
All things considered, good for Swoopes, she has a lot to lose by coming out so it takes quite a bit of bravery. Good for her.