Saturday, February 10, 2007

Gay in the NBA

We have a very diverse league. The question at the NBA is always 'Have you got game?' That's it, end of inquiry.--NBA Commissioner David Stern on gays in pro ball

The small, exclusive club of openly gay professional male athletes has a new member. Former NBA center John Amaechi, who spent five seasons with four teams, on Wednesday became the first NBA player to publicly come out. Amaechi details his life in his autobiography Man in the Middle, which will be released Feb. 14.
Hey, baby steps still mean progress. So bravo to Amaechi for coming out.

Martina Navratilova, the most visible gay athlete in history, applauded Amaechi's courage suggesting that gay youth need roll models. "It's hugely important for the (gay) kids so they don't feel alone in the world. We're role models," she said. "He will definitely help a lot of kids growing up to feel better about themselves."

Reaction from the NBA was encouraging. I'lll share a few quotes here in order from least- to most enlightened.

  • Philly 76ers center Steven Hunter uttered this gem:
    "For real? He's gay for real? Nowadays it's proven that people can live double lives. I watch a lot of TV, so I see a lot of sick perverted stuff about married men running around with gay guys and all types of foolishness."
    Then an olive branch perhaps:
    "As long as he don't make any advances toward me I'm fine with it. As long as he came to play basketball like a man and conducted himself like a good person, I'd be fine with it."
    That's the nastiest comment i could find surrounding Amaechi's coming out. So if Hunter's remarks represent the the most inherently homophobic sentiments in the NBA, then we are in pretty good shape in the big picture.

  • Hunter's Philly teammate Shavlik Randolph weighs in as well:
    "As long as you don't bring your gayness on me I'm fine," Randolph said. "As far as business-wise, I'm sure I could play with him. But I think it would create a little awkwardness in the locker room."
  • Cleveland Star LeBron James offered this asssement:
    "With teammates you have to be trustworthy, and if you're gay and you're not admitting that you are, then you are not trustworthy," James said. "So that's like the No. 1 thing as teammates -- we all trust each other. You've heard of the in-room, locker room code. What happens in the locker room stays in there. It's a trust factor, honestly. A big trust factor."
    Keep in mind, LeBron is widely considered the future on the NBA, Jordan's heir aparent. Sounds like his criticism is valid. Living in the closet does create trust issues.

  • To that end, Orlando star Grant Hill quips, "The fact that John has done this, maybe it will give others the comfort or confidence to come out as well, whether they are playing or retiring."

  • Miami superstar Shaquille O'Neal got right to the point: "If he was on my team," noted Shaq, "I guess I would have to protect him from the outsiders."

  • Finally, Amaechi's former coach, Doc Rivers nails it. "He's better than a good kid; he's a fantastic kid. John Amaechi, when I was coaching him, was a great kid. He did as much charity work as anybody in our city, and he's still doing it. That's what I wish we focused on. Unfortunately, we're talking about his sexual orientation, which I couldn't care a flying flip about."

  • Sooner or later, gays in sports (or in politics, government, the military, etc.) will be a non-issue. But in the meantime, I'll remind folks (as nicely as possible) that WE'RE HERE, WE'RE QUEER, WE'RE NOT GONNA DISAPPEAR.

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