In the African American community, we desperately need public role models denouncing anti-homophobic bullying, vitriol, and discrimination.
Since too few role models come from the Black church, many of us lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) brothers and sisters of African descent look to black role models, especially males, in the areas of entertainment and sports.
But sadly that list too is short.
Tim Hardaway, a retired NBA All-Star player, has recently stepped forward.
“It’s not right to not let the gays and lesbians have equal rights here,” Hardaway told the crowd at a press conference organized by the “No Recall” group, an El Paso group opposing a recall of El Paso Mayor John Cook and two city representatives for their support to re-establish domestic partner benefits for same-sex and unmarried partners of city employees.
Hardaway, however, is the last person one would expect to speak out on behalf of a LGBTQ social justice issue.
In a 2007 interview on Miami’s sports radio station, “790 The Ticket,” Hardaway was asked how he would interact with a gay teammate. The topic came up because of fellow former NBAer John Amaechi’s announcement, in his book Man in the Middle, that he is gay.
“You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people,” Hardaway said. “I’m homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.”
His vitriol, sadly, hurt more than just his post-career endorsements. It hurt the hundreds of young LGBTQ sports enthusiasts and athletes that revered him.
For many of us in the African-American LGBTQ community, however, we were saddened by Hardaway’s remarks, but certainly not surprised. The former CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition H. Alexander Robinson commented on Hardaway’s vitriol, stating, “His callous disregard for the dignity of the lives of gay Americans brings dishonor to himself and the many thousands who look upon him as a role model for young black men and women, many of whom are undoubtedly gay or lesbian.”
I do believe with the right intervention and rehabilitation that vile-spewing homophobes can change. But when their crossover appeal and multi-million careers can or comes to an abrupt halt, their mea culpas appear disingenuous, and their zealous LGBTQ advocacy appears suspect.
For example, Tracy Morgan, comedian and actor on NBC’s 30 Rock, is a recent example of the malady.
During a standup performance in June at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, Morgan’s “intended” jokes about LGBTQ people were instead insulting jabs.
My son “better talk to me like a man and not in a gay voice or I’ll pull out a knife and stab that little n-gger to death,” Morgan told his audience.
Like Hardaway, Morgan has publicly expressed his mea culpas. Morgan’s was to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the nation’s LGBTQ media advocacy and anti-defamation organization — as part and parcel of his forgiveness tour — speaking out in support of LGBTQ equality.
Back in the day, racism was addressed through sports when Jackie Robinson became the first black Major League Baseball player in 1947.
Today’s society awards celebrity status to professional athletes of all races, and the popularity of African-American athletes has reached unprecedented levels; their influences go far beyond the court and field.
So, do these athletes like Hardaway have a responsibility to their fans, especially black ones, and society?
Hardaway’s homophobia is shaped by a particular type of black masculinity that no longer has to break through this country’s color barrier to represent the race and prove athletic prowess or manhood in sports.
The aggressive posturing and repudiation of LGBTQ people allows athletes like Hardaway to feel safe in the locker room by maintaining the myth that all the guys gathered on their team are heterosexual, and sexual attraction among them just does not exist.
“I don’t think he should be in the locker room while we are in the locker room,” Hardaway said during that Miami interview. “If you have 12 other ballplayers in your locker room that’s upset and can’t concentrate and always worried about him in the locker room or on the court or whatever, it’s going to be hard for your teammates to win and accept him as a teammate.”
This myth allows homophobic men like Hardaway to enjoy the homo-social setting of the male locker room that creates male-bonding — and the physical and emotional intimacy that goes on among them displayed as slaps on the buttocks, hugging, and kissing on the cheeks in a homoerotic context — while such behavior outside of the locker would be easily labeled as gay.
In his book, Amaechi states, “The NBA locker room was the most flamboyant place I’ve ever been. Guys flaunted their perfect bodies. They bragged about sexual exploits. They primped in front of the mirror, applying cologne and hair gel by the bucketful. They tried on each other’s $10,000 suits, admired each other’s rings and necklaces. It was an intense camaraderie that felt completely natural to them.”
In August, Sports Illustrated writer Dave Zirin caught up with Amaechi to get his take on Hardaway’s turn around.
“I was in contact with the people he did his ‘emergency rehab’ with after his ‘I hate gay people rant.’ They were underwhelmed to say the least. Back then his contrition seemed more to do with the financial and reputation hit he had taken in the aftermath. However, it seems to me that this is a far more genuine piece of outreach. … I hope this is a story of true redemption rather than a savvy P.R. ploy. Either way, he is at least saying the right words, and that will make a positive difference,” Amaechi told Zirin.
But as we know, a change of words does not necessarily bring a change of heart.