John Amaechi, Tim Hardaway and homophobia

I only wandered onto this by accident, so a note for those like me who are outside the US and may have missed this story: John Amaechi is a former basketball player who recently came out. Tim Hardaway is another former player who had some comments about it, as you can see:

There are all sorts of interesting aspects to this story, not least the segment where the ESPN host interviews the radio host whose interview with Hardaway kicked off the incident. I kept expecting someone to unambiguously express outrage at Hardaway’s hate speech, but it just didn’t happen. See, similarly, this article, which frankly made me feel a bit queasy. Or the comments on this other YouTube video.

Every time a sportsperson in a major sport comes out, it has to be a step in the right direction, but it’s clearly not going to be easy any time soon. From a campaigning point of view, John Amaechi probably isn’t ideal as the first NBA player to come out. He wasn’t particularly successful or famous, which reduces the impact. He’s also extremely articulate, and British. Articulate would normally be a good thing in these situations but it doesn’t exactly run counter to gay stereotypes. And that articulacy delivered in an English accent makes him, I imagine, something of an outsider in basketball culture; at one remove from the emotional centre of the game.

As I’m British, I don’t actually hear basketball players talk very often. Perhaps I’m being unfair in my assumption that they aren’t generally intellectual and hyperarticulate. If anything, American athletes often seem more verbally fluent than their British counterparts, possibly because the college sport system keeps them in education longer. But they aren’t employed for their speaking skills, after all.

As I don’t follow basketball, I can’t suggest the kind of player who would make the most impact by coming out. I guess it would be the equivalent of a Roy Keane or John Terry — someone who is the very embodiment of the qualities the supporters like to think are most important in the game.

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