MY TURN / Blaze's Pioneer Spirit
8 On Friday, the day the news about their GM's announcement filtered
through the team, the Liberty went about basketball as usual. They
the first day of training camp at the Island Garden. They talked about
their GM for about five minutes and returned to a more pressing issue:
earning a spot on the team roster.
An afternoon earlier, at media day, the last sentence of Liberty vice
president and general manager Carol Blazejowski's biography broke new
ground in the homophobic world of sports. In the team media guide
distributed that day, Blazejowski's bio said that she lives with Joyce,
her partner, and their two children, Lainey and Luke. Blazejowski is
believed to be the first executive of a professional sports team to
publicly acknowledge that she is gay.
None of the players were informed of Blazejowksi's decision
beforehand. When they heard about the media guide, this historic moment
was simply no big deal. All the players know Blazejowski's family. They
are at every game. Her daughter, the cutest red-haired kid in the
Garden, usually finds her way onto the court to snuggle with Maddie, the
While Blazejowski has been open about her family around the team,
Liberty players were surprised that she decided to share the news of her
personal life with the rest of the world. It took great courage given
that Blazejowksi, 42, has one of the most high-profile jobs in pro
sports. The Hall-of-Famer is a GM in a league driven by marketing and
corporate sponsorships, a league that loves to promote its "family
image" and its players who also happen to be mothers. Come to think of
it, Blazejowski fits that image, albeit in a way corporate sponsors
aren't likely to embrace.
"Sports for men and women is tremendously homophobic," said Donna
Lopiano, the executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation. "There
is a great fear for gays and lesbians that their sexual orientation will
have a negative affect on sponsorships."
In the deep-closeted world of sports, secrecy has always been the
norm. While Blazejowski chose not to elaborate on the reasons why she
decided to go public with her family, clearly it's because there is
nothing to hide. If coach Richie Adubato can list his wife, three
children and one grandchild in the media guide, Blazejowski should be
able to mention her loved ones as well.
In a past biography, in that obligatory final sentence, Blazejowski
has stated that she lives in Nutley, N.J., with her two dogs. What a
relief it must be to finally fill in the rest of the family. "I'm glad
she has the confidence and pride to say who she is," said Liberty
forward Sue Wicks.
Though Blazejowski probably doesn't think of it in these terms,
through this one seemingly small act, she is a pioneer. Which is really
nothing new for her.
One summer nearly 20 years ago, a few dozen girls sat on the
hardwood court at Rutgers Athletic Center at coach Theresa Grentz'
basketball camp. The topic of the day was shooting. We were told that we
would learn from the master
As Grentz introduced Blazejowski, a three-time All-America at
Montclair State (N.J.), she talked about Blaze, the pioneer. In
Cranford, N.J., Blaze forced her high school to implement a girls team
when she threatened to try out for the boys team. In college, she had to
pay her own way since, at that time, there were few athletic
scholarships for women.
Blaze picked up the ball. Shots whistled through the basket from
every angle. Her motion was so fluid, so pure. Everything Grentz said
was true. That day, a gym full of girls was introduced to a new role
model. Surely, at all the basketball camps Blaze barnstormed in over the
years, she had the same impact on hundreds of girls.
To this day, Blaze is still the best shooter I have ever seen. And
still a pioneer.