The first 15 minutes of the interview were excruciating. Sam refused to make eye contact with me. His answers were curt and nonrevealing. … I was starting to understand why he won Defensive Player of the Year.
Desperate to turn things around, I started talking about myself and mentioned visiting a boyfriend in upstate New York. Suddenly Sam’s head perked up; for the first time, he looked me in the eyes. “Wait—you’re gay?” I wasn’t sure how this could have been unclear. “Uh, yes,” I replied, wondering how he was going to take the news. “Oh!” he blurted, his voice rising five octaves. “And Aaron [Hicklin, Out’s editor in chief ]? Is he gay, too?” I nodded.
His face melted into a smile; he inched his chair closer to the table and loosened the furrow in his brow. “I thought you guys were straight! That’s why I was giving you a hard time.” His eyes, which had glared with impermeability all through the shoot, suddenly started to radiate warmth and comradeship. Sam’s metamorphosis was so sudden and cartoonish, it suggested how much energy he was having to expend to protect his sexual orientation from people he feared would use it against him.
Whereas before Sam had refused to discuss his relationship, now he was busting out his phone and showing me pictures of his treasured man. … “I’m sorry about before — I just thought you were some reporter after a story. Some of those guys are vultures.”
Sam may not have an effective gaydar, but he had a keenly developed sense of kinship. His entire adult life had been dominated by teams and, evidently, a binary vision of friend or foe. All it took was the word “boyfriend” for him to switch from lion to lamb, and to become not only cooperative but downright solicitous.
“Have you still not gotten your tea?” he fretted. I hadn’t. He hounded the waiter and obtained my tea, but he was still worried. “Are you sure you don’t want lemon and honey?” He was a strong advocate of lemon and honey.