February 19, 2007
former NBA player John Amaechi announced he was gay two weeks ago, the
question asked most often was whether the league was ready for an openly
gay player. After two weeks, that question seems to have been answered:
Amaechi, a center who played for three teams over the course of eight
years in the league, made his revelation in a book called “Man in the
Middle” (ESPN Books). He is the first former NBA player to come out,
following baseball players Glenn Burke and Billy Bean and NFL players
and Roy Simmons.
a few NBA players, as well as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban,
expressed support for Amaechi after his announcement, others (including
superstar LeBron James) weren’t quite so progressive in their response.
Philadelphia’s Shavlik Randolph summed up the reaction of many in the
league when he said “as
long as you don't bring your gayness on me, I’ll be fine.”
even further line was crossed about a week later, when former NBA star
Tim Hardaway gave a radio interview in which he said he would never have
played with a gay teammate, because “I hate gay people,” and “they
shouldn’t be in the world, in the
Hardaway was forced to apologize, and was removed by the league from
participating in NBA All Star Weekend festivities. Indeed, not even
conservative and/or Christian commentators would back him, as he’d come
right out and admitted he “hated” a whole class of people.
user comments to a news story about Hardaway ran about 50/50 between
those opposed to the former player, and those backing him, ripping him
only for apologizing, bashing Amaechi for writing the book only to make
a profit and blaming “political correctness” for anyone having a problem
Amaechi “brave” for coming out the way he did? He is, in the sense that
he is doing something that no one in his position ever has before, while
opening himself up to criticism from those inclined to dislike such
things. However, his actions certainly would have been even braver had
he done so while still an active player or if he were a citizen of a
country such as Iran or Saudi Arabia, in which a declaration may very
well lead to death, as opposed to mere criticism.
Granderson, a writer for ESPN the Magazine who is openly gay,
accused Amaechi and others like him of “perpetuating homophobia” by
staying in the closet as active players. While I believe it’s wrong to
ever force anyone out of the closet, the fact is there are closeted
professional athletes out there, and sooner or later we are going to see
an active athlete either come out or be forced out.
Perhaps an active player will be forced out of the closet by his
teammates or by a vengeful ex-lover. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s
David Aldridge reported last week that rumors are rampant around the
league that such a situation may be about to happen. Maybe someone with
a cell phone camera and a Flickr account will spot a well-known athlete
at a gay bar and post the photos online, something that seems to happen
with heterosexual players just about every day.
maybe a player will decide, under their own volition, to tell his
teammates and/or the press that he’s gay. It will likely be a huge mess
to start off and would likely not be good for team chemistry. For
teammates to accept a gay player, it would probably have to be a
superstar, like the ballplayer in Richard Greenberg’s Broadway play
“Take Me Out.”
fact, it would probably take another Jackie Robinson. When Robinson
broke baseball’s color line in 1947, some teammates and opposing players
refused to take the field with him. Robinson responded to the taunts by
quickly establishing himself as a great player, to the point where
African-American players were never again kept out of the game.
decades later, it will be a longer and even bumpier road for openly gay
players. But the march of progress has slowly continued, and people like
and John Amaechi have helped, ever so slightly, to smooth that road.
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