This week, the fifth athlete in professional sports, and the first in the NBA proclaimed his homosexuality. In support of his book, which outlines an experience as a gay man “in the hypermasculine world of professional sports”, John Amaechi, has been in the popular press – particularly ESPN which is publishing the book– for the past week partially explaining his story. As a five year veteran of the NBA, and a graduate of Penn State University – a school steeped in a hyper-conservative, not to mention, sexist and homophobic sporting past (see: Joe Paterno , Rene Portland ) – this is an incredibly moving moment in (sport) history. I mean here is this man who felt like he had to live a life of silence and fear for several years to earn a living finally mustering the courage to explain something as personal and individual as his sexual preference.
On the other hand I wonder: so John Amaechi’s gay – has this made the world change at all? Has he helped create a new time of acceptance? Have we moved forward as a culture to being more accepting of people who feel and act differently than the dominant majority? On the surface, it would seem as if he had. Several ESPN announcers supported his decision, and quite a few interviews and features were created to further represent Amaechi’s decision/personality in a positive light. Moreover, while Amaechi is a former NBA player, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was so bold as to suggest that a current gay player would make millions, despite the fact that in 33 states you can legally be fired for being a homosexual. Another problem with this assertion is the fact that Cuban equates an individual’s sexual preference with a commodity to be bought and sold on the free market. Much like race, we can display our so our acceptance of difference by the act of consumption. Queer Eye is popular, right? Brokeback Mountain won Academy Awards, right? If we are buying homosexuality, then surely it must be ok? Amaechi, clearly is using his homosexuality as the selling point of his book as his marginal playing career certainly would not garner much mainstream attention but there is an obvious price. But if being gay is so profitable, then why aren’t athletes flying out of the closet? There has got to be a sexier name than Amaechi waiting to cash in his gay lottery ticket. He is probably waiting by the guy showing his affirmative action redemption card good for 40 acres and a mule. Yet these are exactly the times that we are living in, and the aftermath of Amaechi’s emergence from the sexual closet should have come as no surprise to any of us.
As stated above, the initial reaction was overwhelmingly positive, even, as in the case with Mark Cuban, if the support was misguided. However, yesterday former five-time All-Star, Tim Hardaway, stated defiantly that he “hates gay people” when asked in an interview how he would feel if a homosexual were a teammate. Cue the shocked radio interviewer, Dan Le Batard who rightly pointed out that Hardaway was behaving in a bigoted manner. Further in the day following, and perhaps throughout the next week, Le Batard will be making the rounds on ESPN’s Sportscenter, Outside the Lines, Rome is Burning, Around the Horn, and Pardon the Interruption explaining his shock and amazement that anyone could respond to his interview question in such a manner.
My question is why should he or we be shocked? On Outside the Lines, Le Batard admitted that he had asked everyone he interviewed this week on his radio show the same question. Now let’s think about this logically. If we live in a country where you can get fired for being gay, have no marital rights, and where public votes for gay rights are consistently lost does not a majority of people have to be against Amaechi? After looking at the situation through this context I think that it is more surprising that it took a few days for someone to respond the way Hardaway ultimately did. Moreover, what good comes of Le Batard, or other members of the media, like Mike Greenberg (from Mike and Mike in the Morning) lambasting Hardaway for his statements?
I argue that it does nothing to change our culture of hate toward homosexuality, and that this situation is merely a moment for people like Le Batard and Greenberg to display their moral superiority for a few days before eschewing the story for the next big thing to come along. To better illustrate my point, it should be noted that just one week prior Le Batard hosted a Super Bowl party at the Versace Mansion home of the murdered famed homosexual clothing designer – how’s that for sticking up for gay rights? Moreover, David Stern can take this opportunity to distance himself from Hardaway and while relieving the five-time all-star of any league-related duties. The NBA is given the opportunity to trumpet their righteousness by vilifying Hardaway yet there are no actions taken to foster a league environment in which gay players no longer feel compelled to hide their sexuality until a post-career book opportunity arises. My point is not to degrade Le Batard, Greenberg, Stern nor Amaechi, nor is it to defend Tim Hardaway (who is clearly a jerk), but rather it is to show that the announcers for ESPN (or the NBA for that matter) could care less about Amaechi or gay rights unless, which it has this week, it can provide talk/highlight show fodder for a week. Thus my point is that in 10 days or 10 weeks the American public and ESPN will not care about John Amaechi, but for a week his sexuality has created fuller pockets for Disney, while allowing the NBA is prove its wonderful acceptance, and little will be done to shift our culture of assumed heterosexuality in (professional) sports.