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February 23, 2007

A silver lining is seen in Tim Hardaway's comments

Miami--After a homophobic rant on a talk-radio sports show on February 14, ex-basketball player Tim Hardaway is being used as an example both of hatred just below the surface and of the consequences of lagging behind society’s norms.

“I don’t need Tim’s comments to realize there’s a problem,” said John Amaechi, the former basketball player whose coming-out story in his new autobiography sparked Hardaway’s rant. “People said that I should just shut up and go away. Now they have to rethink that.”

The host of the Miami talk show asked Hardaway how he would have dealt with an openly gay member on his team.

“First of all, I wouldn’t want him on my team,” Hardaway said. “And second of all, if he was on my team, I would, you know, 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.”

Had Hardaway ended there, he might have kept himself out of trouble. However, he did not.

Dan Le Batard, the show’s host, told the former NBA player that his statements were “flatly homophobic.” Hardaway replied:

“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,” he said. “I’m homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.”

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts cheered Hardaway’s comments for making anti-gay bigotry so blatant, so hard to ignore.

“Last week, Tim Hardaway declared his hatred of gay people. Gay people should be thankful,” Pitts wrote, comparing the former Miami Heat player to Bull Connor, the former police commissioner of Birmingham, Alabama.

In the 1960s, Connor ordered police to use dogs to keep civil rights protesters in line, and told firefighters to let loose on them with high-pressure water hoses.

“Segregation was, for many people, still socially respectable in that era . . . Politicians defended it with honeyed euphemisms like ‘states’ rights,’ and preachers assured their flocks that it was God's will,” Pitt continued. “Connor inadvertently made that impossible. How moral can you feel when a guy is loosing dogs on children in your name? Connor stripped segregation naked. He made people face it for what it was.”

“Hardaway . . . did the same thing for gay bashing last week. No, he didn't turn dogs or hoses on anybody. But he surely stripped homophobia naked,” he concluded.

In addition to considered, intellectual criticism, Hardaway also made himself the butt of less highbrow jokes. Late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel enlisted openly gay actor and activist George Takei, best known as Mr. Sulu on Star Trek, to record a humorous “public service announcement” for his show.

Takei opens the spot by saying that while Hardaway might not like gay people, he likes Hardaway. Then he turns from serious to salacious, telling the ex-jock that he likes him “a lot.”

“I’ll keep my eyes on you, and let it be known, one day, when you least expect it, I will have sex with you. I love sweaty basketball players,” Takei concludes, engendering loud applause from the studio audience.

More serious are the actual repercussions Hardaway faces. He was removed from the NBA All-Star festivities in Las Vegas last weekend, fired from his position as chief basketball operations advisor for the Continental Basketball Association and dismissed as coach for its Miami Majesty team.

Hardaway’s name was also removed from a car wash he co-owns in Miami.

Even Concerned Women for America, a right-wing anti-gay organization, said his statements were “both unfortunate and inappropriate,” according to Matt Barber, the organization’s public policy director for cultural issues. “They provide political fodder for those who wish to paint all opposition to the homosexual lifestyle as being rooted in hate.”

Hardaway apologized twice for the comments, although not directly to gay people either time. After the first apology he told a television station that he couldn’t stand being around someone, knowing that they slept with a member of the same sex, and he wouldn’t talk to a gay family member.




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