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A GOOGLE search of “John Amaechi” quickly leads you down a basketball memory lane, as pictures and statistics from his time in the National Basketball Association litter the top half of the results page. But a bit more rummaging through the site gives you a better picture of the man in the middle.
Amaechi gained national notoriety, when in February 2007, he came out as the first openly gay NBA player in his book Man in the Middle. A firestorm of publicity, both negative and constructive, followed and Amaechi, who also hails as the first British-born NBA player, moved on to another period in his life.
Life after basketball was just the beginning of what life was supposed to be for John Amaechi. Back in his homeland of the United Kingdom, Amaechi began a cornucopia of endeavors. From basketball reporting at the Olympics to reality television to his work as a psychologist, John found meaning in philanthropic efforts. He got involved… Involved with the Special Olympics, Amnesty International, London’s Organizing Committee for the 2012 Olympic Games, the National Literary Trust and Reading is Fundamental campaigns, and the English Federation of Disability Sports.
When addressed about his associations, Amaechi is a bit modest: “I’m just simply looking to help people become extraordinary,” he states.
While most athletes fade into the sunset upon retirement, Amaechi has no such intentions. Oh, and you can add opening sporting centers in urban communities to his list of achievements.
“To be honest, I recognize that I am older. I’m going to continue to get older and I will inherit a world that will embrace by aging difference or it won’t. And I can have a hand in making sure that happens, or not.” Amaechi continues, “So what I am trying to do is help young people self-actualize or become the very best they can in every sense. The most enlightened, the most educated, the most open-minded, the most empathic for their fellow person.”
Amaechi’s workload is an ambitious one. He hasn’t had a holiday in “about seven years” and still he admits that his goal is “to do more.”
“I enjoy what I do, it’s the best job in the world,” he reasons. “I meet remarkable young people (who participate in these events) and adults as well (who work with these organizations). I get hung up on connections with people around me, and working with these groups of people helps me understand the world better. I’ve been profoundly affected by a number of different groups that I’ve interacted with. I remember watching my first disabilities sporting event…watching athletes compete in the purest form. It’s amazing.”
Amaechi’s work parallels that of his philanthropic and community service efforts. As an organizational psychologist, Amaechi runs Amaechi Performance Systems, “a professional collaboration that combines psychological, medical, corporate and educational training expertise to bring a unique perspective to clients.” Amaechi’s passion for the population’s social advancement is evident in the work that he does; his firm offers performance consulting as well as diversity, communication, and personal development skills. The company’s motto of “Learn, Adapt, Grow” is another sign of Amaechi’s expansive efforts.
Amaechi explains the motto, “What we’re trying to do with schools, organizations, and individuals we work with is trying to get them to learn more about themselves, adapt to their environment, and continue to grow as people.”
His occupation allows Amaechi the opportunity to spread his message to a wide breadth of people. Some of his responsibility involves public speaking engagements, something very important because, as he puts it, “allows you to influence massive amounts of people. The benefits are immense.”
But even for a man who makes a living talking in front of people, Amaechi too, gets nervous.
“Oh yeah. I’m an extreme introvert. Everything about interacting with people in general is really energy expensive. I get nervous; it makes me tired. Still, I find it rewarding to feel like I’ve done some good. There are events I do for the joy because I know the potential results would be amazing.”
Although Amaechi has accomplished significant amounts through his efforts, he recognizes that sports still has a great distance to go to accept the gay athlete. “I don’t think anything (in the climate of sports) has changed. I’m fascinated by the fact that people think that something’s changed. The way change happens,” he continued, “is it’s direct, it’s explicit, it’s purposeful…and none of those words resonate with me as something professional sports, or sports at any level, has taken on. The only kind of movement in the direction has been the Rooney Rule in the NFL, but still there is a long way to go.”
So what is next for John Amaechi?
He is in the works with the BBC on a pair of projects as well as the continued effort with the numerous other nonprofit ventures that he sponsors. He will have a large part in the host committee of the 2012 Olympic Games, as he is one of four people to be holding a post as a director for the London Organizing Committee Diversity Board that sets strategy for procurement, recruitment and standards for all staffed positions. Maybe some Bikram Yoga, if he has time.
Amaechi ends the interview much like he lives his life – on a positive note: “The world is not fair and not always equal. But the reality is that the most improbable of people, in the most unlikely of circumstances can become extraordinary.”
To learn more about John’s projects go to:
Copyright 2011 Photo Credit – Amaechi Performance Systems