OK, so you're gay. Who cares, other than Tim Hardaway?

'Yall might be shocked to learn that I get negative e-mails from time to time.

Why, just the other day, I got two of them, one from my old e-mail buddy Jim Ru, who wrote yet again to tell me that I and just about everybody in the world with whom I have ever interacted are bigots; and another from a guy whose screen name, lancebisbee, sounds like a formulaic porn-star moniker. Of course, he might just be a guy named Lance who lives in one of my favorite places in the world, Bisbee.

Anyway, Lance took me to task for writing about this week's golf tournament and rodeo. He says that whenever he sees that I'm writing about sports, especially basketball, he immediately stops reading. I've always been amazed at how some people can live their entire lives without any curiosity, interest and/or participation in sports.

The actual reason I mention that is that while I understand why some people would reject the whole macho, win-win-win mentality of sports, I also figured that progressives would appreciate that sports have often been ahead of the societal curve in such matters as civil and human rights.

Sports are a part of what makes America what it is, and they often reflect what pass for our society's values. I was going to explain that to Lance, but then the Tim Hardaway thing hit. More on that later.

Meanwhile, Jim Ru called me a bigot for the 87th time. How are you supposed to deal with that? It's actually rather clever. Call somebody a bigot, and then watch them either squirm, shout or remain silent, all reactions which could be construed as the reaction of a guilty party.

What are you supposed to do when accused of bigotry? Trot out your (fill in the blank--black, gay, Hispanic, undersized, obese, unattractive, one-eyed, six-fingered, Arizona State-educated) friends to prove that the charge is ridiculous? That's an overreaction of monumental proportions. Besides, it won't work. The accuser will then probably just say that you went to Rent-an-Asian or something.

Are you supposed to apologize for having religion? Well, I won't. It's part of who I am. What's really funny is that he keeps calling me a white heterosexual male. Dude, it wasn't my choice! I arrived in the world that way.

I saw a TV show the other day where the people were arguing over whether people are born gay (or, as one argued, with at least a predisposition toward homosexuality). Scientists have been mulling that over for a long time. The first time I ever heard about it, I thought, "Well, I didn't choose to be heterosexual; how could somebody choose to be homosexual?"

I finally decided to write Ru back and tell him, much to his deflation and dismay, that nobody gives a crap that he's gay. But then the Tim Hardaway thing happened.

Tim Hardaway was an outstanding basketball player for many years. Back when he was in college at the University of Texas-El Paso, he pretty much single-handedly knocked the UA Wildcats out of the NCAA Tournament in a game played at McKale Center. (It was the last time any men's team was ever allowed to play an NCAA game on its home court.) Hardaway then went on to stardom in the NBA.

A couple of weeks ago, a book was released in which a former NBA player, John Amaechi, admitted he was gay and told of his life as a secretly gay man in the ultra-macho world of pro basketball. It seemed like kind of a nonstory to me, but then Hardaway was asked about it on a sports-talk radio show in Miami. After a few questions, Hardaway said, "I hate gay people. I don't want them on my team."

The NBA quickly distanced itself from Hardaway as the story blew up. It dominated sports-talk radio for the rest of that week and was very disappointing. Most NBA players who were interviewed made PC statements, although one guy said that he didn't want another player's "gayness" on him.

Charles Barkley, one of my favorite people of all time, said that Hardaway was a good guy but that what he had said was "very stupid." Barkley went on to say, "I have gay friends. I've had gay teammates. I didn't hate them. The only people I hated were the guys who couldn't play."

Hardaway quickly apologized, but it was way too late. Those four words ("I hate gay people") are going to haunt him for the rest of his life. They will also taint any attempts by people like me to suggest that sports play a positive role in our society. From Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball to the all-black UTEP starting lineup beating the all-white Kentucky squad to the U.S. ping-pong team opening up diplomatic efforts with China--all that seems long ago and far away. The Hardaway thing is depressingly current.

So now, Mr. Ru, all I can say is that nobody I know gives a crap that you're gay. Fortunately, I don't know Tim Hardaway. But you might want to stop throwing grenades at people who aren't your enemies. It's boring, counterproductive and, quite frankly, rather bigoted.

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