Shelley Gorman didn’t realise it at the time, but the pressure of hiding her sexuality significantly contributed to her axing from the Australian team ahead of a World Championship campaign.
The year was 1998 and Gorman felt like a shadow of her normal self as she struggled to come to terms with her identity.
She attempted to immerse herself in basketball as a coping mechanism, but it only served as a temporary solution.
“Back then I didn’t put the two together, but looking back now I’m sure me struggling and not understanding who I was played a part in me being dropped from the Australian team,” reflected Gorman, an Australian Basketball Hall of Famer with five WNBL championships and over 321 games to her name.
“Basketball was my focus and my saviour in a lot of ways, but my sexuality was this thing that was bubbling along on the side.
“It takes a lot of your attention and energy, and it had an effect on my basketball because I was struggling with this other side of my life lot.”
Gorman’s internal battle with her sexuality was made even harder as she long thought she was straight.
She had convinced herself that any attraction towards females was just a “once off” feeling, but deep down she knew it wasn’t the case.
The main problem: the process of ‘coming out’ took Gorman “years” as she emotionally wrestled with her feelings.
On reflection, telling her parents she was gay was easier than she had built up in her mind, but it was still scary in the moment.
The majority of Gorman’s insecurities centered around rumours that had started to filter around basketball circles about her sexuality.
“It gets difficult because when rumours start, that is when you start hiding who you are,” she said.
“There were so many rumours going around and my mum had asked me if they were true. I denied it and said no because it wasn’t true initially.
“It’s hard to have a chance to really work out yourself and do it in your own time when people are already talking.
“You become worried about what other people are going to think, say and if people are going to treat you differently.
“That makes it difficult too, because you start to think this isn’t who I am, and it isn’t me and maybe it is just this one person (that I’m attracted to).
“So, you are just questioning yourself a lot and I wasn’t ready to say this is who I am.”
Thankfully, the process of ‘coming out’ is a much smoother process today.
Gorman is filled with joy that young people questioning their sexuality can receive all the support in the world to be their authentic selves.
The Olympic silver medallist remembers feeling like the “weight of the world” was off her shoulders when she came out as gay later in 1998.
Gorman felt blessed to receive the unwavering support of her family at the time.
“My family were wonderful, which made it easier,” she said.
“I feel like I had a lot of support, but at the end of the day people don’t really care, but there was still a lot of shame and judgement around it.
“I think that is why it’s so hard to come out.
“A lot of it is you coming to terms with it (your sexuality) yourself.
“It is your own internal battle. It’s why the support is wonderful, but it’s more about you coming to terms with yourself.
“Once you come to terms with that, it was a really big step for me.”
Today, Gorman is in a “happy” relationship with her partner Kylie.
The pair own an online personal training and coaching business called, ‘Urban Warriors’.
Gorman is equally busy juggling her basketball commitments, which include being elevated to head coach of the Sydney Flames.
The Opals legend and three-time Olympian rarely has time to pinch herself, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m happy,” she says, grinning.
Gorman is also enjoying being a role model for any young person battling with their sexuality.
She feels like women’s sport has long been the flag bearers for providing a safe environment for people questioning themselves.
Sadly, it’s a different prospect in men’s sport, as shown with Melbourne United big man Isaac Humphries the only publicly gay man currently playing in a men’s top-tier professional basketball league in the world.
Gorman wants this statistic to change.
“It’s hard to believe that there is still such a stigma attached to sexuality in men’s sport,” she said.
“I mean, who cares who we love?
“I think a big problem today is religion being associated with sexuality and there are still big walls up there.
“But events like pride round, it’s all really helpful. Change is slow, but we’ve just got to keep working at it.”
Originally published as Shelley Gorman reveals the pressure of hiding her sexuality cost her a World Cup spot