The Gay Blade

Former NBA player John Amaechi has joined a select group of openly gay athletes who have received major endorsement deals.

Amaechi, the first professional basketball player to disclose he was gay, was named the newest spokesman for HeadBlade, a company that specializes in products for men who shave their heads.

"I think it's fantastic that HeadBlade has approached me to endorse the brand," Amaechi said in a statement. "I jumped on the HeadBlade bandwagon the first time I found out about the product almost six years ago, and have been using it ever since. Whether you're black, white, straight or gay, a shaved head is a shaved head, and it requires specialized maintenance."

Though HeadBlade has not disclosed how long the multiyear contract will last or how much Amaechi will be paid, it is clear that Amaechi, a gay, black athlete, embodies many of the company's demographic markets.

"The HeadBlade audience is diverse. We endorse MMA [mixed martial arts] fighters, bodybuilders, Harley Davison drag racers and other professional athletes. John not only represents a few of our target demographics; he's also a worldwide diplomat for the brand and a role model to many people. John has been a HeadBlader for a long time, and it's an honor to have him officially on the HeadBlade team," said HeadBlade CEO Todd Greene.

Amaechi, who was born and raised in the United Kingdom and spent five years playing in the NBA with the Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz, publicly disclosed his sexuality last month in a best-selling autobiography "Man in the Middle."

He retired from professional sports in 2003.

HeadBlade says that its deal with Amaechi marks "the first time a mainstream company has sponsored an openly gay male athlete," but former NFL player Esera Tuaolo hawked steaks in 2003 for the restaurant chain Chili's after retiring from sports and coming out as gay.

In 2000, tennis great Martina Navratilova, who for decades said that being openly gay had cost her endorsement deals, appeared in commercials for carmaker Subaru.

In a related story, BaldGuyz, another company that produces razors for men's heads, dropped former pro basketball player Tim Hardaway as its spokesman after Hardaway attacked Amaechi, saying "I hate gay people," on a Florida radio show.

"We think it's great that a company like HeadBlade is smart enough to add John to its roster of endorsers," said Rashad Robinson, a spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, a group that monitors portrayals of gay men and women in the media.