6ft 9in NBA star turned psychologist John Amaechi says he was ‘humiliated’ after being ‘privately’ searched at Heathrow Airport when he was told he was ‘too big’ for security scanners

  • John Amaechi, 52, says he was told he was ‘too big’ for scanners at Heathrow 
  • The ex-NBA star was selected for a ‘humiliating’ private search by security staff
  • John, the first openly gay NBA player NBA, said he was left furious by the search
  • Heathrow apologised to the retired sports star and said it was investigating 

A furious British basketball legend was forced to undergo a ‘humiliating’ private search by Heathrow airport staff after being told he was ‘too big’ for the security scanners.

John Amaechi, who was the first ever openly gay player in America’s NBA, said he was ‘randomly selected’ by security officials to undergo an additional search after triggering an alert.

The 52-year-old retired sportsman-turned-psychologist – who was awarded an OBE in 2011 for his services to sport – was then flagged down again by a second scanner in the first-class security queue at Terminal 5.

Staff blamed the 6ft 9ins former basketball star’s height as the reason for the intimate search. 

But the excuse left Mr Amaechi furious. Taking to Twitter, he vented: ‘Just had to go through a “private” search at @HeathrowAirport. First ‘beep’ was “random selection” (almost every time) then another machine gave a “double yellow” (because) – & I quote “you are too big.” Then a private search (with) 2 people. Humiliating to be escorted away. Furious, again.’

Former British basketball legend John Amaechi says he was privately searched by staff at Heathrow after allegedly being told he was ‘too big’ for the security scanners

The 52-year-old, who was the first ever openly gay player in the NBA, said he was left humiliated by the incident. He is pictured in 2000 during his time with Orlando Magic, in Florida

‘Too big for security scanners’: John claims staff told him he was too tall for their scanners which prompted his private search. Pictured is a similar full body scanner at Manchester Airport

The former England international, who has also worked for the BBC covering the Olympics, was born in the US to a Nigerian father and British mother, and raised in Stockport, Greater Manchester. 

He took up basketball at the age of 17 and went on to play for five seasons in the NBA, playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz. 

John, now a company director and bestselling author, was heading to the British Airways lounge before a flight to Dublin last Wednesday when he was stopped and searched – in a move which has since sparked a racism row. 

Describing the incident, John told the Guardian: ‘I am a 6ft 9in black man standing in security, clearly not able to move on from my free will, and the passengers … are looking at me – like what’s he done? – as I stand there for 12-15 minutes. Then you go into a private room where two men watch you while you are searched – more invasive than when people can see you. The idea that a random beep can escalate to that seems outrageous to me.’ 

Although John said two of the three security officers who searched him were Asian and ‘polite’. But he added: ‘They were part of a system that says some people look like trouble and some people don’t. It’s not Heathrow’s problem in terms of its source – but it is in Heathrow’s gift to change how they respond.’

Heathrow said it has launched an investigation into the incident. Pictured are people queueing in Terminal 5, where John was stopped

A spokesperson for Heathrow apologised to the retired basketball star, saying they were ‘sorry to hear of your upsetting experience.’ 

Mr Amaechi received support from other sporting stars after he tweeted about the incident at Heathrow – with some accusing the airport of racial bias. 

Among them was white British champion rower Matthew Pinsent, who said: ‘Data point from a similar sized bloke. I have never been selected for “private” search at a UK airport. Didn’t even know they existed.’  

And Dr Leon Black tweeted: ‘This is simply unacceptable, and frankly bullsh*t. How can someone require a private search because they are “too big”? 6’8″ middle-aged white bloke here, and I’ve never been asked to step aside for a “private” search.’

Another Twitter user added: ‘Same. 6’3″ white guy who’s played physical sports my entire adult life. Never been dragged off for a private search.’

A Heathrow spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘We understand that being called for additional security checks can have an impact on a passenger’s experience at the airport. 

‘These extra checks are not discriminatory and will only ever happen for reasons of security. Whenever this is needed, we will invite the passenger to a private room so these checks can take place promptly and in private. 

‘Our aim is to complete this process as smoothly as possible and allow passengers to continue on their journey. We want everyone to feel safe and welcome at Heathrow whether they are a passenger or a colleague.’

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