National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Tim Hardaway

The anti-gay rant by former professional basketball player Tim Hardaway last week enrages me not only because of the emotional pain it caused for all who felt assaulted by it. According to a prominent National Basketball Association insider, it reflects the way almost every pro athlete thinks. No attempt has been made to take this as an occasion to address that, but only to cover it up. 

ESPN-TV sports commentator Stephen A. Smith’s candid assessment, reported on ESPN’s popular show, “SportsCenter,” last week, is that based on his private conversations and contacts, most athletes in professional sports “feel the same way Hardaway does, only they’re not stupid enough to say so publicly.”

“You know, I hate gay people, so let it be known. I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States,” Hardaway spewed.

Hearing the audio replay that includes the inflection in his voice, it is obvious that this man did not make an inadvertent slip of the tongue or unfortunate choice of words, the kind of things for which a simple apology could suffice.

Hardaway’s comments came as an answer to a radio host’s question about the public announcement by former NBA player John Amaechi that he is gay. It was the first time anyone who’s played in the NBA revealed that, and one of only a handful of athletes in major professional sports, virtually all after their sports careers were over, who ever has.

Hardaway has apologized, but only because he found himself cut off from his post-playing career NBA gravy train because of what he said.

Amaechi has not accepted that apology and neither do I. Hardaway may be a big, bad pro athlete, but he’s a moral coward.

Hardaway’s cosmetic suspension from NBA activities by NBA Commissioner David Stern can be considered temporary. Meanwhile, the honest assessment by Stephen A. Smith was quickly covered up and substituted for by condescending comments from Stern and others.

While sports radio talk shows were junked up with want-to-be jocks insisting that Hardaway “has a right to say whatever he wants,” three prominent former NBA players, now commentators on TNT-TV, did their part to contain the issue.

As if on cue, reflecting Smith’s report, TNT’s “Sir Charles” Barkley said that Hardaway’s remarks were “unbelievably stupid,” although he did give as the reason the fact that minority athletes should be the last people to marginalize others. Still, Barkley ranted against any notion that Hardaway’s outburst reflected a wider attitude in the sport.

Another TNT pundit, Kenny Smith, effectively blamed Amaechi for the whole incident, suggesting that he came out of the closet only as a stunt to promote his new book. That insult would be like saying Eldridge Cleaver led the Black Panthers only to boost sales of “Soul on Ice.” In fact, coming out openly, for any gay person, is the most important, courageous and potentially dangerous thing one can do.

TNT’s Reggie Miller said the important thing is “damage control” for the damage caused to Hardaway. He was more concerned for his NBA colleague than the harm to others caused by his comments. All treated the case as if it were Hardaway’s problem, primarily, and dismissed it as a problem for Amaeci or gay people, generally.

In reality, the hatred reflected in Hardaway’s remarks is evidence of a deep-seated disease far more harmful and insidious than anything its bearers accuse others of.  

In this context, it’s painful to see how in professional sports, any focus on a legacy of compassion for the underdog and the civil rights struggle has been dumped for worship of the “bling-bling,” the singular pursuit of ostentatious riches and their accoutrements.

Hate is taught. It becomes sanctioned partly as a result of abandoning the goals of equal rights and economic justice in favor of a self-centered pursuit of filthy lucre and entitlement to unbridled power over others.

NBA fans pay upwards of $200 for decent tickets. Maybe fair-minded folk will begin to consider that an excessive subsidy of an institution that turns its back on the need for rooting out a culture of prejudice and hate festering in its midst that Hardaway’s remarks unveiled.