Lessons Unlearned: Homophobia in Sports

Broadcast 1/16/2007

No doubt by now you’ve heard – or at least heard of – comments from a certain retired professional basketball player, a five time NBA All-Star who played the better parts of six seasons with the hometown Heat.

Now, make no mistake – there’s not much room for misinterpretation of this ex-Heat player’s comments. He said he didn’t care for gay people, that he didn’t want to be around them. In responding to a follow-up question, he very clearly said, ''I hate gay people. I let it be known. I don't like gay people. I don't like to be around gay people. I'm homophobic. I don't like it. There shouldn't be a world for that or [a place] in the United States for it. I don't like it.''

These statements might be expected from some professional basketball players, in light of the news revealed last week that a former NBA role player, John Amaechi, is gay. Amaechi said so himself. This information flies in the face of the image of professional athletes as touch guys, macho men, hypermasculine superheroes who perform great deeds on the field or the court and get all the ladies after the game.

As with gay men in pro sports, or gay men in the military, or the attempts to ban gay marriage in different parts of the country – what’s really at issue here is plain old bigotry attacking people who are trying to find a place for themselves in the world. That is, to my ear, people who complain so vociferously about how gays and lesbians shouldn’t have a place in the public sphere – that kind of talk sounds like antisemites who used to complain about Jews, or WASPs who hated Catholics, or those racists who are worried about “the Latins” or “colored people” getting ahead in the world.

The fact is – Ted Haggard’s cure aside – that a certain percentage of people on the planet are gay. It’s biology. In fact, most people’s straightness or gayness finds a place on a scale – you might be over here, you might be over there, you might be somewhere in between. That’s just how it works. I understand, buddy -- not you: You’re 100 percent man.

But what is a man, really – other that what he declares himself to be? What is a person in the land of the free and the home of the brave, if he or she can’t declare an identity that is authentic and honest and true. It’s not for anyone but a bigot to attempt to decide that this person “belongs” and that person does not. As long as who you say you are means that you can behave with respect towards others and respect for the laws – when the laws are just and fair – then who you are is okay with me. You can be straight or gay, female or male, white or black. No harm, no foul. But, sorry, if your actions include saying bigoted things in the national media, you have it coming.

As Martin Luther King Jr suggested, “Let us be judged by the content of our character and not by the color of our skin.” Or, to put it another way, “Let us be judged by the public actions we take, and not the private love we make.”

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