Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Gay in the NBA

Here is an interesting article in the Nation magazine about a former NBA player, John Amaechi, who is the first NBA player to be openly gay. The article talked about prejudices and homophobia, as well as his becoming more activist in regards to homosexual issues.

Here are some quotes from Mr. Amaechi that I found particularly poignant:
"...there are still plenty of gay people who can't come out at work, because they can still be fired. In thirty-three states you can be fired for being gay. There are job security issues for gay people in most areas of life. Look at the military. You can die for your country but you can't talk about your partner. And in the NBA too--I was worried I would lose my job if I came out."
"Ann Coulter did the same thing [calling John Edwards a "faggot"]. It actually makes me far more angry to hear someone in her position do that. Make no mistake, Tim Hardaway's voice is massive and booming. I've gotten letters and e-mails from children who have changed the way they behave, quit their schools, or fear for their safety because of how his words have emboldened people in their environment. So the collateral damage in terms of the fallout has been massive. But this woman does it for an audience of people who represent power. Real power."

"We're asking the people with the most to lose financially, emotionally, psychologically, to fall on their sword in the hope that that will change the world. Now, my contention on this, having spoken to Judy Shepard [mother of Matthew Shepard, the gay man who was beaten to death in Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998], adoring her and really feeling a great deal of grief over her story, is that if the image of a young boy without his shoes being strapped to a fence and left to die doesn't end homophobia, then a gay Shaq won't either. To me, a young boy, semi-naked, no shoes, strapped to a fence in the middle of nowhere--how can you look at that image and then say the F-word? How can you look at that image and then allow people around you to use antigay slurs, when you know it's that kind of atmosphere that leads to that? That's what the Ann Coulters, the Tim Hardaways, need to understand. Their words don't just leave their mouth and drop to the floor like fruit. Their words leave their mouth and bounce around the world like bullets."

"I've always been a political activist. But in terms of LGBT issues and diversity issues in general, yeah, I'm certainly going to step up now. One of the major problems we have is that people need to stand up, be counted and say, 'Unacceptable that in my high school kids get assaulted with the word "gay," meaning stupid or bad or wrong or dumb. Unacceptable that the F-word is being used on a regular basis in workplaces. Unacceptable that coaches talk about "throwing like a girl." Unacceptable that coaches and teachers and bosses allow that kind of rhetoric to go on unchallenged. Unacceptable.'"
While I agree with what Mr. Amaechi has to say that if something as horrific as what happened to Matthew Sheppard can't change people's attitudes about homophobia, then a gay athlete certainly isn't going to change things, but then I think the murder of Matthew Sheppard did wake a lot of people up. It brought homophobia out of the underground as being mostly acceptable; no big deal, and laid the groundwork for it becoming something that has over time increasingly been taken more seriously, albeit not nearly as seriously as it often should be.
I think it does make a profound difference when a celebrity, especially an athlete comes out.
People who are admired for their talents can have a particularly beneficial effect on changing stereotypes about homosexuals.

I applaud John Amaechi for coming out as he has, it takes a lot of courage to do that, especially someone from the arena of professional athletics. As time goes on more and more athletes will come out while they are still playing and on a team. What Mr. Amaechi has done in telling his story will have helped pave the way to that.

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