Sports Law Blog
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Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Sport and the Meaning of Homosexuality
A commenter with the handle ChapelHeel makes an interesting point to the post about the reactions to John Amechi coming out. ChapelHeel tries to distinguish Tim Hardaway's anti-homosexual comments from Shavlik Randolph's statement that he was OK as long as Amechi (or anyone else) does not "bring your gayness of me."
ChapelHeel says, in part, as follows:
There are lots of people in America who are fine with gay people living a gay lifestyle, but do not want to be personally involved. Call it a middle ground of acceptance.
Let's assume Randolph is Jewish (based on his first name), and let's also assume he is heterosexual. Now suppose he said he was fine with Christians "as long as you don't bring you Christianity on me." Would we be upset? I doubt it.
So why do we get upset if we substitute "gayness" for Christianity when Randolph is heterosexual? Because it is the hot topic of the day.
I don't find his comment unenlightened. It is not as accepting as it could be, but it isn't non-acceptance. It is non-participation; and that's different.
This raises important issues about sexual orientation and the significance of having gay and straight professional athletes co-exist. And it also gets into some issues about the role of religion and sports, something I have been thinking about a great deal.
In the original post, I criticized Randolph's comment as incoherent because I really do not know what he meant by "bring your gayness on me." What is he talking about? As for suggesting it was unenlightened: I used that word not because Randolph's comment was antipathetic towards homosexuals; I was not using it in the political sense of intolerant towards gay people. In fact, if more people took the attitude of "gay people can do what they want and it does not affect me," we would all be better off.
But I think Randolph's statement is unenlightened in a different sense: Any meaning we can ascribe to it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of sexuality and sexual orientation. As I see it, he could have meant any of three things.
Possibility # 1: Do not make me gay by being around me--as if it were catching. I think most of us can agree that sexual orientation is not akin to a communicable disease that can be passed around the locker room--that being around someone who is gay can "make you gay."
Possibility # 2: Do not try to make me gay by converting me to your homosexual lifestyle. This one gets a bit closer to ChapelHeel's religion comparison. The problem is that sexual orientation is not a choice; it is a genetically hardwired predisposition as to who or what one is sexually attracted. So the idea that Amechi might "convert" Randolph misunderstands this fact about sexual orientation. True, this point is subject to some scientific, social, and religious controversy about the ability to "cure" homosexuality. And the anti-rights movement speaks of a homosexual agenda involving "recruiting" of new members, especially children. But I think the weight of science is on my side on this one.
Possibility # 3: Do not hit on me; I am not gay and am not interested in having sex with you so don't approach me. I call this the "Get Over Yourself" Problem: Do not assume that, just because the man standing next to you is gay, he wants to have sex with you; you aren't that good-looking. Just like we would not (or at least should not) assume that the heterosexual woman standing next to us wants to have sex. (Although the rules of sexual attraction are quite different with professional athletes, but that was the subject of Michael's post). If this is what Randolph meant, it is a bit presumptuous--and again reflects a misunderstanding of sexual orientation and what it means to be attracted to particular people.
Any of these three meanings is troubling in my view, for what it shows about Randolph's misunderstanding of homosexuality and sexual orientation.
But I do find this part of the issue interesting. While all the controversy has surrounded Hardaway's openly antipathetic comments, little attention has been paid to Randolph. But in many ways the worldview reflected in Randolph's comments is more troubling than the worldview reflected in Hardaway's. Randolph presents ideas that are fundamentally wrong about sexuality and sexual orientation, ideas that, if widely accepted, hold back the ability of openly gay athletes to exist and function in professional sport. But the ideas are presented in such benign, quasi-tolerant terms ("As long as I don't have to be involved, I'm OK with you doing what you want") that the danger of the underlying ideas gets buried. He is seen as being "accepting," as opposed to troublingly uninformed. At some level, rabid bigotry ("I hate gays") is easier to confront and less harmful.
Also, I take issue with ChapelHeel's suggestion that if a Jewish athlete (and my quick check says Randolph is not Jewish. And trust me: We are so starved for Jewish sports stars that we keep a very close watch on these things) requested that a Christian teammate "not bring his Christianity on me" we would not be upset. Actually, there would be an uproar from the Christian Right and the people on Fox News like you would not believe. The controversy over prayer at football games is precisely because non-Christian athletes and fans seek to avoid the bringing of Christianity on them--how is that working out? This is a separate and intriguing subject that I would like to discuss more in the future.
Finally, a personal note to ChapelHeel. Judging by the handle, I am guessing you are a UNC fan. I commend the fact that you declined to trash, and in fact defended well, a Dukie. That is enlightened.