Hardaway's `hate' not an isolated opinion

February 16, 2007|By RICK MAESE

Aretired NBA nobody comes out as a homosexual.

A retired NBA somebody comes out as ignorant.

And the rest of us came out with our political pitchforks and verbal flamethrowers, alternately defending and denouncing. And even after a full week of trying to reconcile this notion of homosexuality in the locker room, the only thing I'm fairly sure of is that Tim Hardaway did not spend Valentine's Day hand-feeding John Amaechi sesame-crusted shrimp by candlelight.

"I hate gay people," Hardaway poignantly told a Miami radio station, to which there was only one knee-jerk response I could muster: I hate Tim Hardaway.

Let's take a couple of steps back and recognize that the specifics don't really matter when we're dealing with a hot-button issue (e.g., any topic that a politician rubs all over his body because he knows a voter can smell it from two counties away). The details morph into faceless symbols, suddenly representing a cause, a problem or the need for immediate change.

I'm not going to presume Hardaway understands the concept of hate or what it means to be gay. But it's a safe guess that he doesn't truly hate every single man and woman who happens to prefer partners of the same sex. And while Hardaway might not specifically hate Amaechi, he could very well hate the idea of homosexuality.

In much the same way, I don't hate Tim Hardaway - he could be a nice man and his kids probably love him - as much as I hate the idea of Tim Hardaway.

"First of all, I wouldn't want him on my team," - this is the Zen of Tim again - "and second of all, if he was on my team, I would, you know, really distance myself from him because, uh, I don't think that is right. I don't think he should be in the locker room while we are in the locker room."

Why stop there? Why should they be in the mall the same days we're in the mall? Why should they use the same handrails? Or exhale out the air that we breathe in?

Seriously, who talks like this? Who reflects on the modern-day workplace and feels comfortable saying that there's an entire segment of the population that doesn't belong? And this is probably where it's important to note that Tim Hardaway isn't just speaking for Tim Hardaway.

I have no doubt that there are some in the media who saw the Hardaway headlines and did a Tiger Woods fist pump. After all, we've been looking for this particular voice ever since word leaked that Amaechi was going to become the first NBA player to disclose his homosexuality.

"But LeBron, I mean, do you really want to be naked next to him in the shower? What if he asks to borrow your soap?"

"Yeah, Kobe, we heard you say it wasn't a big deal. But seriously, what if a gay teammate pats your butt after a good play? You can't be cool with that?"

It was as if the media was going out of their way to validate their suspicions and confirm the intolerance that runs through professional sports. And to what end? Is anyone really using the NBA as a moral compass? (Some advice: don't.) And did we really think people in sports would be any more tolerant of homosexuality than the general population?

When Amaechi swung open the closet door last week, he surely knew folks like Hardaway would be standing on the other side. But we've quickly reached a point where this isn't about Hardaway any more than it's about Amaechi. Just as Amaechi represents a bit of what we are, we must recognize that Hardaway's comments reflect on us as a society.

For every person who saw his words and felt some disgust start to boil, there was someone else who felt relief - pride even - that a pro athlete had the "guts" to buck PC imperatives and publicly condemn gays. Unfortunately, homophobia is still worn discreetly as a badge of honor by many.

Flip on talk radio, visit a church, research election results from the past few years or check the pulse of most any community that's not considered a metropolis. On this issue, the quiet voice is sadly the majority voice. When it comes to writing and discussing gay issues, I'm not sure the mainstream media represents mainstream thought. I fear that Tim Hardaway does.

Just as the NBA - and every other sports league - has huge strides still to make, we, as a society, have so much room for growth. Hardaway didn't learn his attitudes once he signed an NBA contract. His feelings are rooted deeper than the NBA, and intolerance is rooted much deeper than sports.

That might be the saddest thing to come out of all this: yet another reminder of how strong anti-gay sentiments still are. Warranted or not, the feelings in the NBA are probably no worse than those of the general population. And sadly, no better either.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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