Sports need a gay role model, if only so we can stop debating something so silly as one's sexuality. And so we can stop hearing idiots like Tim Hardaway spew hateful messages.
I wish someone like Peyton Manning were gay. He could pull out the cheesy mustache he wore in those Sprint commercials, offer some support as he does in the MasterCard commercials, and speak out against inequality.
Peyton’s a great role model for everybody -- house movers, latte servers, waitresses, paperboys. (“That’s all right, Bobby, you still have the best arm in the neighborhood!”) Peyton is also one of the most popular and well-liked players in the NFL, according to a league referee I know. It will take someone of the caliber and prestige of Manning for anything to change.
For now, all we have are a few mediocre players who have already retired, not the reigning Super Bowl MVP. Tennis legends Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King are gay, as is Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis. But team sports in the United States remain closed to gays, apparently. The list of gay players in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL is brief and unimpressive. (Check out ESPN’s history timeline of gay athletes at http://espn.go.com/otl/world/timeline.html.)
Add John Amaechi to this list. This week, the five-year journeyman NBA player announced he was gay, something that would have been forgotten had Tim Hardaway not flamed out in a radio interview. Clearly, Timmy will not be bringing Meech, or any other gay player, out for dinner and a movie.
“I hate gay people, so let it be known,” Hardaway told Dan Le Betard, a Miami Herald sports columnist and radio show host on WAXY-AM. “I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people. I’m homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world.”
Apparently, Le Betard was so stunned by Hardaway’s tirade that he failed to ask any follow-up questions; instead, he went right to a commercial break. No matter how much time you prepare as a reporter, you can’t predict such craziness. “I didn’t know how to handle it,” Le Betard told Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander. “I should have asked ten more minutes’ worth of questions.”
But who expects to hear such hateful, ignorant comments, especially from a person who is in the public eye? Hardaway said gay players should not even be allowed in the NBA’s locker rooms.
“First of all, I wouldn’t want [a gay player] on my team,” Hardaway said. “And, second of all, if he was on my team, I would really distance myself from him because 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. I wouldn’t even be a part of that.”
After a game, a locker room is not exactly a Playboy Mansion. It’s more like the YMCA, where you see dirty towels on the floor, smell dirty, rank uniforms and socks, and hear vulgar language. That was my experience, at least. That’s why I’m always shocked when I hear anybody argue against women in locker rooms. Women reporters are not there for the sights – unless they are masochists. Neither are gay athletes.
Gay players are not lurking near shower stalls. But, make not mistake, gay players are in locker rooms, only they feel compelled to keep their sexuality a secret from morons like Hardaway. Let’s see, Billy Beane, a former major-league baseball player – and now Amaechi – are the only gay athletes ever to have competed in professional team sports. Not a chance.
More athletes have to come forward in order to make this issue a non-story. Perhaps, Amaechi’s book, Man in the Middle, will help educate us all. I plan to read it. I hope reporters do not try to “find” other gay athletes, though. Let athletes decide for themselves whether they want to announce their sexuality because undue pressure can prompt ridiculous press conferences like the one major-league baseball star Mike Piazza had in 2002. The New York Post had suggested a Mets player was gay. Rumors persisted that it was Piazza, the Mets’ future hall of fame catcher. At the hastily prepared conference, Piazza said: “I’m not gay. I’m heterosexual. I can’t control what people think. I date women.”
Five years ago, Mets manager Bobby Valentine went so far as to say baseball was ready for an openly gay player. "The players are a diverse enough group now that I think they could handle it," he said.
Phillies manager Larry Bowa disagreed. "If it was me, I'd probably wait until my career was over," Bowa said. "I'm sure it would depend on who the player was. If he hits .340, it probably would be easier than if he hits .220." Piazza, one of the game’s great sluggers, would have had the credentials to be The Guy.
So, for now, all we have is former journeymen athletes, not Peyton Manning who is the face of the NFL the way Michael Jordan was for the NBA. Peyton would be the ideal spokesperson (if you like 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterbacks with a laser arm.) Yeah, that guy would have been pretty good had he been gay. But he's not. There must be at least one star athlete in one sport who is gay. Not that the events of the past week inspire anyone to step up.
So, for now, we are stuck writing about John Amaechi, a classy, hard-working player hardly the level of superstars like Peyton, Jordan or Derek Jeter. Yet, I’d pick him every time over Tim Hardaway. You see, I hate homophobes and morons and do not want one on my team. I don’t like ignorance and intolerance either. It shouldn’t be in the world.