She doesn’t want to be called a trailblazer. That is her prerogative, and she may not want to be referred to as a trailblazer.

Nevertheless, that is what she is doing.

The speculation about gay and lesbian athletes has always been what would happen if a star athlete came out of the closet while still active? How would fans, the league, other teams, corporate America, and the media react?

Well, Sheryl Swoopes is bringing the story to the forefront.

Swoopes, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and the reigning WNBA Most Valuable Player has announced that she is gay in an article in the current issue of ESPN the Magazine.

Swoopes referred to life in the closet as miserable.

"I'm just at a point in my life where I'm tired of having to pretend to be somebody I'm not," she said in the article. "I'm tired of having to hide my feelings about the person I care about. About the person I love."

Yes, professional athletes have come out of the closet before. However, the stories of Esera Tualo, Billy Bean, Dave Kopay and Michele Van Gorp have been told after their playing days were over.

Never before have we had to deal with a current player announcing their sexual orientation.

And never before has it been a player with the resume of Swoopes. Three gold medals. Three WNBA MVPs, including this past season’s. The NJCAA player of the year. The Final Four Most Outstanding player when she led Texas Tech to the championship with 47 points in the title game. Four WNBA titles. Five WNBA First Team honors. For goodness sake, the woman was the first female athlete to have her own Nike shoe, the Air Swoopes.

There’s a chance that her support could disappear in the blink of an eye. It will be intriguing to see how sponsors treat her now that she’s out. People’s perceptions, unfortunately, change. No longer is she Sheryl Swoopes, WNBA player and mother. Now, she is Sheryl Swoopes, gay athlete. That might scare some sponsors away.

The WNBA is at a crossroads. The league is almost a decade old, and it has struggled to survive, being propped up by the NBA. Swoopes, who was married and has an 8-year old son named Jordan, was the face of the league at its inception to show that there were attractive, straight, female basketball players.

Now that Swoopes is out, what is the league going to do? It wants to market to its gay fan base, but also knows that huge portions of the country are conservative and fear that even thinking about gay fans may turn away some "pro-family" elements.

However, now the league’s hand has to be forced if Swoopes decides to continue her career. One way or another, they are going to have to choose. And a lot will be said if they decide to leave her off of marketing and promotional materials. That may not be the message that the league wants to send.

The sports media need to be careful in how they cover her. Striking that balance between focusing on her on-court accomplishments and her off-the-court trials and tribulations as an out athlete will be tricky. The responsible thing to do is to make sure that her sexual orientation is not the sole focus of any story about her. Game stories do not need to feature leads like, "Sheryl Swoopes, the lesbian, scored 18 tonight."

Fan support of her will be crucial. Granted, this is the WNBA, but I’m sure that deep down, she will feed off of the positive voices she hears at home and on the road. For her, hopefully those positive voices will outweigh the negative jeers she is bound to hear.

This is truly uncharted waters for all who follow team sports. Sure, it may "only" be the WNBA, but it is still a professional sports league. And how this story plays out over the next few years may outline whether other professional athletes come out.

It will be harder for a gay male athlete to come out, especially in football and hockey. However, if the WNBA handles this right, the template that is used might help a male athlete make the same brave decision some day.

Sheryl Swoopes isn’t knocking the door off of the closet. But she has cracked it open somewhat. Maybe soon, the door can be knocked off its hinges.