MY TURN / Blaze's Pioneer Spirit

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8 On Friday, the day the news about their GM's announcement filtered

through the team, the Liberty went about basketball as usual. They

boarded their team bus in Manhattan and traveled to West Hempstead for

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

floppy-eared mascot.

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.

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