Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Being John Amechi, but not being Tim Hardaway
I have waited a couple of days to blog about John Amechi's new book in which he announces that he is gay (the first active or retired NBA player to come out). Or about the nuclear explosion in the wake of former All-Star Tim Hardaway's statements on a Miami radio program this week:
"You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States."
It only has gotten worse for Hardaway as his recent attempts at damage control have included apologies, non-apologies, and the statement that he would disown a gay family member. The NBA dismissed Hardaway from his official role in All-Star Weekend events. It remains to be seen what becomes of his broadcast job.
I do not have a coherent picture to paint of this incident, other than to store it as another example of how free expression plays out in sport. For now, though, some totally random thoughts:
First, Hardaway's comments took the spotlight off the previous leader in the "What Were They Thinking When They Said That?" Competition: the Sixers' Shavlik Randolph, who said, when asked about Amechi's revelations, that he was fine with it "as long as you don’t bring your gayness on me." This one is funny, just because I have no idea what it means. I am not sure if Randolph meant: a) Don't have your sexual orientation rub off on me, like a cold or b) Don't hit on me. Either way, nothing like a couple years as a student at Duke to give someone a nuanced, enlightened understanding of the world.
Second, I cannot tell what impact Amechi coming out will have. It should drive home the point that there are gay professional athletes out there. And it makes some sense that the first player to come out is not a superstar, but a journeyman who has less to lose by bringing the political issue to the fore.
Third, this incident is a good barometer of where American society and sport (as its own insular society) is on this issue and how far we have to go. On one hand, the initial (pre-Hardaway) positive reaction to the revelation by current and former players suggests a level of acceptance that, perhaps, is higher than we might have expected. Maybe professional team sport is ready for an openly gay athlete--as opposed to the closeted gay athletes who, statistically speaking, are already in the locker room.
On the other hand, Hardaway's comments--blunt, abrasive, and offensive though they may be--may be an accurate reflection of the majority view among NBA players. Men's sports, especially men's team sports, remain (along with the military) the last bastion of high-testosterone, hierarchical, male-bonding machismo, with which homosexuality is (perceived to be) incompatible. I get the sense (with no real empirical or evidentiary support, just a feeling) that women's sports is a little more accepting of lesbian athletes and coaches (the controversy at Penn State notwithstanding). Actually, society in general is more accepting of lesbians than gay men. The point is, maybe we are not as far along as we would like to think.
Fourth, Hardaway actually deserves some credit for his honesty. I believe he holds those beliefs about homosexuality deeply and sincerely (although I do not know their source). And again, I believe many athletes hold similar (if less sharply stated) beliefs. But I am convinced there is a benefit to hateful thoughts being brought to the surface, to knowing who holds those ideas and to being able to respond to them (as the NBA and much of the media has done). I also may be unique in actually preferring that Hardaway not apologize, that he stick to his beliefs (and let me know what they are) and bear the consequences of those beliefs. (As a side note, I have said the same thing about those who express hateful views, and then try to half-apologize in the wake of an angry response, about groups of which I am a member).
Fifth, I do feel bad for Hardaway that his world is falling down around him, because (listening to the radio interview) it sounds like he did not quite know what he was walking into. I am not suggesting that he was ambushed or that he is being treated unfairly. Only that he seems not to have given much thought to the real-world consequences of his statements. There may be something to a column that ESPN's Jeff Pearlman wrote several months ago, suggesting that we ought not look to athletes for political ideas, because many (not all, but many) live in a highly insulated world.
It is hard not to think of Al Campanis, whose long career as a scout and executive for the Dodgers (the team that lead the way in integrating baseball) ended abruptly in 1987 with some ignorant and incoherent (but far less hate-filled) comments about African-Americans lacking the "necessities" to be managers and general managers.
On the other hand, Campanis did kick-start the conversation that has lead, too slowly I admit, to improvements in the number of minorities in management and executive positions. Maybe this controversy will, in the end, advance the cause of gay athletes.