Hardaway’s stupidity a lesson 

It took less than a week for "The John Amaechi Story" to officially become "The Tim Hardaway Story," which may actually be a good thing. You see, Hardaway’s is the more important story to tell.

When the former NBA All-Star announced that he hated gay people last week, he shocked the sporting world with his frank admission of intolerance and bigotry. When he followed his hateful diatribe with an apology only for expressing his feelings aloud, rather than for having them at all, matters were only made worse. And when he told a television anchor that his hatred would even extend to a family member who was gay, it was over for him.

The NBA rightfully banned him from any league representation and anyone with a past association with Hardaway sprinted from him faster than Greg Anderson from a grand jury. Hardaway’s comments, in Amaechi’s words, "polluted the air" and were "laden with hate." But the words are also extraordinarily important.

As much as our society would like to believe that we are "enlightened" enough to handle an openly gay athlete in professional sports, Hardaway’s comments prove we’re nowhere near that day. In other words, if the only documented reactions to the Amaechi announcement were the watered-down, politically correct responses of those who have declared support for an actively gay player, any player who chose to come out now would be in for a rude awakening. It took Hardaway’s publicized, myopic view of gay athletes to remind us that tolerance does not, in fact, float as freely through NBA locker-room air as profanity, cologne and human flatulence.

Hardaway’s despicable words have not been shared by any current or former NBA players, but rest assured that his views likely are. Count the number of "no comment" reactions from various players queried by a curious media and add in the number of babbling, incoherent, struggling-to-stay-PC responses we’ve heard in the last several days and it’s clear that Hardaway isn’t the only one dumb enough to think the way he does — he’s the only one dumb enough to say it into an open microphone.

Truly, the Hardaway story is as important for gay athletes to consider as the Amaechi story when considering whether or not to kick open the doors of their own closets. They need to be reminded that NBA rosters are cross sections of society and just as there are gay men in everyday society, so are there gay-bashers. And even though most gay-bashers know better than to declare themselves haters of homosexuals, as Hardaway hasdone, they will most assuredly allow their discomfort to darken the locker room as they begin to deal with their newly outted teammate. Perhaps that’s why Amaechi himself doesn’t believe an active player should come out just yet.

Amaechi appeared on my radio program Thursday and told me the most important job of an NBA player is to win games. Coming out as a gay man, he declared, would create chaos for any NBA club and present an extraordinary distraction for his teammates. The reward, he concluded, would not be worth the risk, though it would be up to every athlete to decide for himself.

One thing is certain: If a gay active player does decide to come out now, he’d damn well better be a superstar — for his employer’s sake. If the first gay player is only a marginal talent — a John Amaechi-type — his general manager and/or coach would be afraid to cut or trade him for fear of being branded homophobic. The club would be instantly regarded in certain circles as discriminating against the gay player, which would be a PR disaster. The alternative? Keeping the player and wasting a valuable roster spot on a big pile of tolerance.

And no one should have to tolerate that.

Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at brantz@examiner.com.

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