The article below was the end paper in the generally inessential Slam, and written by former Slam editor-in-chief Ryan Jones. It came out last week, when all the Amaechi stuff was dropping, but I didn’t find out about it until recently, and figured it might be an interesting counterpoint (or, hopefully, coda) to L’Affaire Meech. It’s not an opinion piece, just a recollection of what Meech was like at what was probably the peak of his celebrity before last week: during his All-Big 10 years at Penn State in the mid-90s. Jones was in school with him at the time, and while his piece ends on kind of a lame note — Jones’ final thought on Amaechi was that he wished he’d gotten to the story first? really? — it’s an interesting look at how Meech got by as a gay man in the not-too-progressive world of sports.

But you know the most compelling thing about John Amaechi, at least if you went to Penn State in the mid ™90s? He was the most popular guy on campus.

Understand, this is the equivalent of some linebacker from the football team at Kansas or Duke being the biggest celebrity in town: It™s not supposed to happen. Penn State is was and always will be a football school, and yet this guy, on force of personality, just owned the school. You could just tell, without the slightest trace of arrogance on his part, that John was smarter and more approachable and more thoughtful than any of the other big-time athletes on campus, and pretty much the rest of the student body in general. Dude was just¦ cool.

He was also, even then, gay, and a lot of us knew it, or at least assumed it. I mean, I didn™t have the evidence to prove it in court, but part of it was just his manner, the way he carried himself ” pardon the stereotypes here, but this is truth. John wasn™t what anyone would describe as œflamboyant, but the whole half-innocent / half-ignorant œIs he gay or just European? jokes were common, if sort of quietly so. For starters, no one was really sure ” he was really close friends with a girl on the volleyball team, and a lot of people assumed they might™ve been dating. I didn™t rule it out, but if I™d had to put money down¦

And then there was the openly-gay guy I worked with at the student paper. The joke with the rest of us halfwits on the sports staff was, œYeah, he™s gay, but he knows more about college basketball than anyone we know, so he must be OK. And he did know more about college hoops than pretty much anyone I™ve ever met; this guy actually spent his spring break one year traveling to a bunch of the small conference tournaments ” MAAC, So-Con, whatever ” just straight hoop nerd stuff that you had to appreciate. We were cool, and at some point I asked him about John. His response: œOh, yeah. He™s definitely gay. Everyone in the gay community here knows it.

So why not come out back then? Why not parlay the popularity and respect he had on campus, and in the community in general? Well, if you™ve ever been to Central Pennsylvania, you might have an idea.

There’s more, and until the last graf or so, it’s pretty interesting. The link came courtesy of Howie the Hype Guy’s NBA and Other Unrelatedness.