I was a baller, shot-caller—the "pride" of the frosh team—until my junior year in high school (it was a small town; they needed all the bodies they could get). I made two points in three years. For some reason, I stuck with it until my 16th birthday. And every time I walked into the locker room after basketball practice, my routine was the same: Head down. Hurry up. Strip. Hurry up. Shower. Hurry up. Get the hell out of there. HURRY UP! It wasn't because I was gay. I wasn't anything then (though I did find my eyes lingering on Mike Campbell's hot butt). It was because the other guys in the locker room loved to talk shit. And I didn't want to give these hormonally charged youngsters anything to "talk" about, specifically anything that included "faggot" in combination with "ass" or "bashing." Truth is, basketball locker rooms are as heated as any shopping mall full of pre-teen girls.
That's the real reason I think it was so easy for retired Miami Heat player Tim Hardaway to say he "hates gay people" when asked how he felt about former NBA star John Amaechi admitting in his new book, Man in the Middle, that he was gay. Hardaway was just saying what almost any player might say in the locker room, even when their sportswriter acolytes are around. He just happened to admit to being homophobic during a Miami jock-talk radio show interview that was quickly picked up by the ESPN media monolith.
Hardaway operates in a culture where he knew his former teammates would have his back. His defenders even asked why Hardaway should have to answer questions about what he thought of a gay teammate.
Now, here's a parallel even a sports fan can understand: Until the late '60s, Southern universities excluded blacks from their football teams. So let's say a white player like Alabama's Joe Namath were asked back then what he thought about having a black teammate and he answered, "I hate black people." Unfair question? No! Namath's answer in this hypothetical scenario would've touched off an overdue backlash.
Bring it back to '07 and listen to what Amaechi said about Tim in The Miami Herald: "Finally, someone who is honest. It is ridiculous...and shows a lack of empathy that is...unfathomable. But...it illustrates the problem better than any of the fuzzy language other people have used so far."
By bringing his shameful words into the bright light of the media glare, Hardaway has started another culture war du jour in the wide, whup-ass world of sports. And I'm not sure where this one might end up. I mean, what if I said, just because I was an ignorant fool, "I hate black people." How long do you think I would last at this job? Not long, I can assure you.