Is Pegasus Warm?

As you may have noticed, the FreeDarko Giant Mouth was mum on the subject of John Amaechi. I had to send a couple of deflating emails to non-sports friends, explaining that Amaechi was out of the league, at best a role player, and culturally quite far from the heart of the NBA mainstream. This only confirms some stereotypes: gays are swishy Brits who lack the grit defense demands, and can't stick in the league regardless of who they bone. Ring me up when a star-caliber guy who moves within normal NBA circles comes out—that's when paradigms get bloated and crack.

Not surprisingly, the real insight went unnoticed, tucked away in player quotes that were either glossed over or misinterpreted. The otherwise fulsome Doc Rivers offered this bittersweet insight:

"We're all insensitive at times," [Rivers] said. "There's no taboo subject in the locker room. I think if he would have come out, they would have got on him jokingly. They would have held no punches and they would have made fun of him just like they make fun of guys here.

This is kind of a doozy: that in order to fit in, a gay man would have to submit to ridicule. What Rivers seems to be getting at, though, is the sacrosanct nature of team camraderie. For this hypothetical gay NBA'er to reallly have an impact, his exceptionalism couldn't be front and center; he couldn't be given special treatment or subject to too many fawning halftime segments. He would have to be one of the guys in all basketball situations, which would include a good-natured ribbing now and then. The obvious counter: wouldn't this be another Jackie Robinson? Yes, in some senses, but the game of basketball has been integrated by other groups several times over. It would be naive and a little insulting to hold this man up as a sixties-style pioneer when that form of social statement comes off as tired and old-fashioned. Maybe gays are the most discriminated against group on the planet; still, the goal should be absorption into the web of difference, not acting as if this long-overdue figure deserve Civil Rights-era treatment.

LeBron was getting at something similar, but apparently no one got it. The AP took James to mean that he "didn't think an openly gay person could survive in the league," and the current version up on AOL had replaced his appearance with some harmless Shaq love. Here's what he said, still intact in a lesser home:

"With teammates you have to be trustworthy, and if you're gay and you're not admitting that you are, then you are not trustworthy," James said. "So that's like the No. 1 thing as teammates - we all trust each other. You've heard of the in-room, locker room code. What happens in the locker room stays in there. It's a trust factor, honestly. A big trust factor."

Clearly, LeBron was explaining why it's important that gay player do come out. Again, if someone were willing to be honest and let his identity be part of the team's chemistry, things would work. That might be wishful thinking, but it's at least a somewhat pragmatic model of how this figure might really make a statement to the world: by getting respect, making the All-Star team, and being accepted as a part of the basketball world. I'm not advocating repression or assimilation. What I am claiming, though, is that a normalized place in the game is the only way gays in sports will ever be anything more than a novelty.

On a related note, I've been trying to decide if the sports blogosphere is more homophobic than sexist. My sense is that it is, in large part because there's no semi-ironic exorcism ritual associated with contemplating gays. Like it's harder to degrade gays while celebrating them and thrashing yourself, mostly because there's no baseline assumption that they matter. Women are women, and the subject/object tango that men engage in with them is as old as cheetahs and lumber. With gays, though, there's no "I need you and in many cases respect you" understood as hogging the background. About the closest that can be managed is "I know a lot of them," which is no less laughable than "I have black friends."

Players, though, are different than fans. Like LeBron says "what happens in the locker room stays in there." And the "trust factor" is a two-way street.


At 2/08/2007 11:52 AM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Good thoughts. You left out one key component of the NBA that might be a factor, too... the Christians. The NBA, as in NFL (but not so much in MLB), has a vocal contigency of Christian players, who pray together after the game. NYers will remember Charlie Ward and Allan Houston, and their possibly anti-Semetic comments; one can only imagine that if a player actually came out as gay he might run into some backlash from these Christian players, especially if they are on the same team....

At 2/08/2007 12:04 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Shanoff today:

Yes, it's a big deal, if only because he's the first NBA player to ever do it -- the NBA's hyper-heterosexual player culture (which, mind-bogglingly, has both homophobic AND racist undercurrents) makes the NFL's uber-manliness culture seem forgiving.

As far as I can tell, isn't the NFL 10000X more Christian than the NBA? Maybe I'm reading too much into that quote, but Dan makes it sound like the NFL is less of a milestone. And from that, I'd infer that the Christian stuff isn't the major stumbling block. It's stuff about gender and race.

At 2/08/2007 12:28 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

shavlik randolph is a big christian, which may explain his concerns about gayness being brought upon him. i guess it's progress that if any player is really anti-gay, the pressure to not say something overtly homophobic is so great that no one's stepping forward saying they hate gay people.

i want to see a player say something along the lines of, "hey, more bitches for me."

At 2/08/2007 12:41 PM, Anonymous JTS said...

The thing that always gets me when these "gays in pro sports stories" come up (which isn't really all that often) is the fact that, there has to be at least a handful of players in the league, just going on statistics, that identify as gay or bisexual. I don't know that anyone has compiled definitive numbers in terms of the overall population, but even if we were to say 1%-2% of all men identified as gay, that would mean that there were 5-10 gay NBA players currently in the league. That's probably a conservative estimate, so why would anyone be surprised or shocked? And maybe I'm reading all the coverage wrong, and no one is surprised or shocked, but it sure seems like that's how a lot of sports and news outlets want folks to react.

As for the Christianity issue, Salon had a great article last year about sports and religion, Going Long for Jesus. It presents the issue with both its positives and negatives (of course, with Salon's own spin thrown in there). But reading that article is even more disheartening, because the writer does convey some of the close-minded behavior that can grow out of this type of religious movement. While both the NFL and NBA are tough, I don't know that coming out in a baseball dugout or on a hockey bench (typically thought of as "whiter" sports) would be any easier, so I'm not sure just how much I buy into the argument about race. Certainly, there's something to it, but haven't all athletes that arrive at the professional level, no matter their sport, walked through the fire of "homophobia" and "uber-manliness?"

At 2/08/2007 12:53 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

To a certain extent, LeBron's statement is senseless. I'm guessing every player in the league has some personal interest or hobby or issue or whatever that isn't brought up in the locker room. Does "trust" in a basketball sense mean knowing the totality of the person? But this simply reflects a social understanding that sexuality is so big it can't just be another part of a person, even a part of a person that doesn't totally define him/her. I'm thinking of "The Office," when Michael said to Oscar, "Not because you're gay. Being gay doesn't define you. The Mexicanness is what defines you...for me." It's taken as a given that one's sexuality is such a prominent part of identity that if any part of that is hidden, there's no trust.

But that's still stupid, since there are all sorts of aspects of sexuality that we don't share, evne in "trust" scenarios. What if a hetero player is really into S & M? Or some kinky hetero sex? Must that be shared for total trust? We all have weird sexuality, and we all hide parts of that weird sexuality, so the insistence that a gay man must be clear in his sexual habits and preferences but a hetero doesn't is odd to me.

Alright, this has been rambing and perhaps senseless. If you want a clearer exploration, read some Michael Warner.

But I'd say the blogosphere is far more sexist than homophobic. There's a laughing curiosity about homosexuality that is not entirely dehumanizing that I see (on the sports blogs I read at least), while sometimes the treatment of women is more outright demeaning. But I could be wrong--or it could be that outright vitriol about homosexuality is unfortunately such a common feature of American social and political comment that what I see on blogs about gay people seems tame and "kind," while the demeaning treatment of women, as a lit guy with constant awareness of feminism's meaning, stands out all the more.

But I don't care terribly when a former player comes out. It's been done (though rarely). It will matter in a major way when an active player comes out. Until then...

At 2/08/2007 1:17 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

jts--i meant racial identity, not racism. like what does the black make identity mean if he's gay, etc.

vv--it's the politeness that worries me. the same way that players are claiming they'd all be fine with it. the age-old battle of the sexes is certainly more honest than p.c. avoidance. that's exactly the reason why race relations are so fucked up in america.

yes, i would rather have everyone making fun of each other, even if it's occasionally tinged with bile. i'm not sure if doc rivers would take his point that far, but i am.

At 2/08/2007 1:28 PM, Blogger Rob I said...

Speaking on sports blogs which, as a whole, exist on the periphery of sports, there is most definitely a higher level of homophobia than sexism. Just think about comments or posts that are made and see which 'joke' one would hesitate to make first: a joke about women or a joke about gays or even a joke about a straight athlete who is less than manly, and then supposed to be gay. It's much easier for anonymous commenters and anonymous bloggers to tear into homosexuality; this makes the sports blogosphere as rife with homophobia as the pro sports that are covered. It's as bad as "don't ask, don't tell" as it's become "don't let anyone know my name when I call them a fag".

wv: fggtu

That's telling.

At 2/08/2007 1:32 PM, Blogger Rob I said...

I don't mean to disagree with Vegan Viking who raises good points. It's probably dumb of me to compare racism, sexism, and homophobia to see which one hurts more or which one is more prevalent among the sports blogosphere.

wv: detboiz

wtf is going on around here with the wv's?

At 2/08/2007 1:33 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

As far as I can tell, isn't the NFL 10000X more Christian than the NBA? Maybe I'm reading too much into that quote, but Dan makes it sound like the NFL is less of a milestone. And from that, I'd infer that the Christian stuff isn't the major stumbling block. It's stuff about gender and race.

Bullshit: Consider Tony Dungy (shamelessly stolen from DWil...):

"Virtually every article about Colts coach Tony Dungy praises him as a devoted family man of deep religious values. But Dungy’s values do not extend to tolerance for gays, which is why he will be the honored guest for Indiana’s leading anti-gay political organization."


It's very much about Teh Gay. And if the stereotypical feminized "Queer Eye" gay guy is 'threatening', how about one who obviously by virtue of his mere presence in the NBA/NFL just might be able to kick your ass? I might posit that a lot of homophobia is based on asserting dominance - what if you can no longer do so. I mean, if you were that kind of bigot.

At 2/08/2007 1:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think looking at lbj's comments makes more sense when you think that a lot of nba players are sleeping around a lot and not keeping it a secret. I'm not homophobic but i would find it dishonest if a gay person we talking endlessly about how "hot" a woman is, only to find out that they meant hot in a completely platonic way.
With a lot of the things guys do revolving around women, a gay player would have to be pretty dishonest to remain closeted...


At 2/08/2007 1:39 PM, Blogger Brigadier Pudding said...

i think shanoff's take is way off base. the MLB has more than their fair share of homophobic jesus freaks. curt schilling stumping for gwb, john smoltz equating same sex marriage with marrying actual animals, jeff suppan in the anti stem cell ads during the world series.

lets be honest, though: the vast majority of pro athletes, christian or not, are homophobic. they are jocks after all. i don't think the NBA is worse than any other league.

At 2/08/2007 1:41 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

pooh--again, i'm not sure which is more of a problem. i was making a sloppy inference from something shanoff wrote.

this is where i would make some sort of football/basketball comparison that pisses everyone off. but i'm low on caffeince, so make due with this question.

what poses more potential ugliness, tony dungy finding out one of his lineman is gay, or jerry sloan knowing that one of his starters is? cue the stuff about vastness of a football team, emphasis on rational organization, players more anonymous, etc.

At 2/08/2007 1:45 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

that said, based on this i'm inclined to think that the nba would adapt more easily. for the same reasons it could also pose more of a problem.

At 2/08/2007 1:48 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

what poses more potential ugliness, tony dungy finding out one of his lineman is gay, or jerry sloan knowing that one of his starters is?

I think the Dungy case is probably worse, assuming good coaches. Sloan probably knows his starter better than Dungy knows his lineman, so even if Sloan is homophobic (I have no earthly idea. He doesn't strike me as the sort who would give a crap if the guy could give him 15 and 10, but what the hell do any of us know?), he can rationalize by saying that "well he isn't really like that." Plus, given the contractual framework in which the NBA works, Sloan largely has to suck it up and deal with it, while Dungy can just find a reason to cut the guy. ("cap reasons").

At 2/08/2007 2:17 PM, Anonymous paper tiger said...

with the dungy/lineman sloan/starter question, i don't know if you were aiming at the specifics of those positions or just going for a general thought, but, if you picked those positions on purpose, i think the "man to man battle" romance of the lineman would have the potential to make that ugly, with folks thinking homosexuality affected the ability to engage in that individual clash. but (again, not sure if you were specific for a reason), i'd say the anonymous interchangability of linemen for the average nfl viewer (no attacks, please) versus the high visibility and personality of an nba starter means any issue at all with the sloan/starter thing would be amplified because it would get more attention. more attention=more potential for ugly. but, a dungy/skill player sloan/starter comparison is probably a different story.
i don't mean to pick nits.

At 2/08/2007 2:47 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

When discussing the NFL vs. NBA on "what would happen if a player was openly gay", there are two different aspects to the discussion: one is the press. The NFL controls the press coverage of its sport far better than the NBA (this can be expanded, but for now take it as fact); the NFL would act to limit coverage, considering that an openly gay player might be problematic for a large portion of its fanbase, which is middle America (think NASCAR set). Not all NFL fans fall under that category (maybe not even alot), but more NFL fans than NBA fans. Given this, the NFL would try to keep it under wraps by many means, but if force to deal with it, would probably deal with it while keeping coverage of it to a minimum. The NBA has no such control over its press coverage, so it becomes more of a story in the NBA. Hence, Amaechi > former NFLers who have come out. And seriously, as JTS pointed out, if stats say that 5-10 NBAer are gay, what about NFLers (much, much larger population set)? In other words, the NFL probably has dealt with this, and chosen to keep it under wraps to this point.

Secondly is how would the players in both leagues react to an openly gay teammate/opponent. The NBA, by virtue of having a smaller set of players, is a tighter network. Players on a team have to interact more than football teammates (how much time does Peyton spend actually talking/playing with the punter?); players have to interact on both sides of the court. A gay safety would only interact/play really with another team's offense, and probably just WRs, to be honest. So in the end, the NBA players would adjust quicker. Think Magic when he announced he had HIV; there was a period of questions, of misinformation, but eventually things quickly reached equilibrium again....

At 2/08/2007 2:50 PM, Anonymous paper tiger said...

the other day you suggested that various societal issues were more visible/ present within the nba than other leagues (which i think we were all able to at least acknowledge). now, with the black ref link and the sloan/starter thoughts, you're claiming that the nba is perhaps also better equipped to deal with these issues. correct? so...relation? i mean, is it just the visibility that spurs the "resolution"?
i guess i'm thinking from a "context of the sport" versus "nature of the game" perspective.

At 2/08/2007 2:51 PM, Anonymous PCA said...

This take by SLC writer Brad Rock sums up the way I reacted to Amaechi's news as well:


So John Amaechi is gay.

What am I supposed to do about that, forget he was a disappointing player who didn't work terribly hard? Nominate his book for a Pulitzer in literature?

Maybe I should do nothing. Treat it as though Wednesday's breaking story really wasn't such a big deal. Consider it a mildly interesting news item on an average-at-best NBA player.

Of course I can't totally ignore the story, since he played two uneventful seasons in Utah. A player's sexual preference is apparently part of the media's job, though as far as I can tell it doesn't have much to do with how he shoots a 10-foot jumper (which, by the way, is horribly). Being gay isn't going to hurt or help that.

At 2/08/2007 2:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i read this site everyday and want to comment but often feel uncomfortable speaking up. maybe cuz you guys are internet sexist pigs? :) anyway, giving it a whirl today:

What if a hetero player is really into S & M? Or some kinky hetero sex? Must that be shared for total trust? We all have weird sexuality, and we all hide parts of that weird sexuality, so the insistence that a gay man must be clear in his sexual habits and preferences but a hetero doesn't is odd to me.

you're comparing apples and oranges. or whips and vaginas, anyway. homosexuality, unless you're looking at it from a fundamentalist religious persepective, is not per se kinky or weird. it just is.

we know what a hetero's sexual preference is. he's hetero. folks on the internet dissect and drool over or diss every woman a straight athlete looks at sideways. so saying you don't know anything about a straight athlete's sexual proclivities is kinda silly, isn't it? just ask dante culpepper or tony romo or tom brady or dennis rodman or lebron james or matt leinart or or or or or....

as for internet homophobia versus sexism, i think sexism wins.

the fact is, men have an innate understanding of homoerotica, even if consciously they're repelled. but women? men have always dominated them.

but it's all changing. bottom line, you guys are sticking smack dab in the heart of a seismic cultural shift that's gonna take another few hundred years to sort out.

and while it does, if you're an american male anyway, you're stuck in a real world where you must measure every word you say, every gesture, every look.

but here in the cyber world, you can act out, lash out and pay back, say what's forbidden, act out your reptilian fantasies, put us chicks back in our places from the comfort and security of your anonymous fortress of solitude. and it doesn't help that a minute before you logged onto "ksk" or "with leather," you probably tickled the trout with the aide of some internet porn. (not that there's anything wrong with that....)

lest you think i'm getting down on you guys, the opposite is true: i am constantly amazed and impressed that american men have ceded any power over to women at all. just one look at the rest of the world should prove to any fair-minded woman how evolved you guys actually are trying to be.

all this is a process, sometimes painful and messy and america is leading the way. which is why i think it's only a matter of time before US men break the "gay athlete" barrier.

apologies for the length and rambling nature of this. no time to edit it.

At 2/08/2007 2:57 PM, Anonymous D-Wil said...

I'm just gettin' to the caffeine, too albeit in yerba mata (a no-sleeping 4-year old will do that to ya).... It's bad if it's Sloan or Dungy. They're both rabid Christians and no matter what the workplace, if your boss is a rabid Christian, as Sloan and Dungy are, then a gay man is in trouble.

It really depends on the workplace environment. Like it may be worse on the Colorado Rockies than on other MLB teams. The Rockies owner is an unabashedly far-right Christian, hired a manager with the same religio-perspective, wants players with his relio-perspective, and openly has "faith days" at Coors Field during the baseball season where tickets to games include a Christian band and "worship" after the game.

What if you played on an NFL team dominated by the deceased Reggie White, who before his conversion to Judaism, made several anti-gay statements? Might he have set you up to have your career ended? What is you played on a team like the Allan Houston-Marc Jackson-run New York Knicks; the team Jeff Van Gundy became so upset with because they mandated that the locker room become all-but an ad hoc Christian chapel? How long would an openly, or closeted gay player last there? Might they have demanded that the player be traded - a them or us type of thing; or even worse, leaked a closeted player's name to the press?

At 2/08/2007 2:59 PM, Anonymous jr said...

BS: Sam Mitchell's comments in the link you provided made a lot of sense. I think reaction, if it's not blatantly homophobic, can be one of tolerance or respect. To paraphrase Mr. Mitchell, should gay players be tolerated and thus deigned Others whose prescence is (grudgingly) allowed? Or should they be respected as human beings the same way everyone should be respected as a human being? Clearly the latter.

I think Doc Rivers' comments are pretty freaking naive. Even if I believed his dubious assertion that there's no taboo locker room subject a player would begin suffereing from an overwhelming social stigmata the minute he outed himself. There's so much stuff that could be said about how homosexuality frightens/arouses a pandemic range of emotions in straight men, but I think in a realistic sense it would pan out in the usual bullshit; guys thinking that knowing a gay man might somehow make them gay, paranoia about his supposed desire to fuck them etc. The hypermacho atmosphere of pro athletes would only make it considerably worse.

Lebron's comments are more ambiguous but also problematic. So is the gay player supposed to out himself, risking not only the wrath of his teammates but also potential problems with homophobic officials and the inevitable "if you're gay whatever but keep it to yourself" criticsm? Or does he stay in the closet and hold back a huge part of himself and live a very public lie? It's a stacked deck and gay players are pretty much screwed (absolutely no pun intended) either way.

As to whether or not an openly gay player would have more chance of succeeding in the NBA than elsewhere; well, it depends on the player. I think a superstar with an undeniable impact on the game and the mental toughness to to deal with the abuse he'd receive from fans and players alike would do better in the NBA than anywhere else because of the focus on individuals to such a large extent. As pooh noted, if you're Jerry Sloan and your gay PF is throwing down 20 and 10 there's not much you can do about it except trade him (Salt Like not exactly being the best example of a place where a homosexual athlete is likely not to face an outraged Mormon fanbase). Someone's going to pay him a lot of $ money to play for them if he produces like that no matter who he's fucking off the court. Jackie Robinson didn't just play baseball, he was also pretty awesome and undeniably had a positive impact on the Dodgers which I'm sure helped ease the blow to racist fans. On the other hand a role player might do better in the NFl where there are so many guys on each team and injuries such an integral part of the sport that every year teams wind up calling guys off the street as replacements. In any sport, if the demand is great enough guys will play. I think that in the NBA so many guys are marginal and stars such a rare quality that a gay star would have to be tolerated but a gay 3rd string center could be cut and replaced by some gawky Euro.

shit, my comment also kind of rambled on. sorry.

At 2/08/2007 3:01 PM, Anonymous PCA said...

D-Wil, I think you're confusing Sloan with the Jazz owner, Larry Miller. I don't think anyone has ever accused Sloan of being a rabid Christian.

Basketball is the man's religion, which was actually one of the main reasons he and 'meech didn't get along.

At 2/08/2007 3:17 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

panger--first off, i admit that my reasoning was a little screwy. the fact that men can both degrade and exalt women (no madonna/whore) doesn't make the degradation any more redeemable. but again, hetero men interact with the idea of gender. they're threatened, perhaps intrigued, by homosexuality but pretend it doesn't exist. at least as far as honesty/openness is concerned.

paper tiger--i think that the nba is better suited to affecting change within the culture of the game. that it can address real world-ish problems well isn't the same thing as offering a real world solution.

At 2/08/2007 3:28 PM, Anonymous D-Wil said...

Miller - sorry... wakin' up. However, Sloan is purported to be a homophobe and according to some peeps, Amaechi is supposed to this about Sloan (we'll see)....

At 2/08/2007 3:33 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...


"homosexuality, unless you're looking at it from a fundamentalist religious persepective, is not per se kinky or weird. it just is."

My point is this: sex is weird. The way we have sex is weird, and much more diverse than "either you're homo or hetero." But society creates a certain essentialism regarding homo or hetero; which you are is somehow essentially and fundamentally impactful on who you are. And maybe it is--but what sort of kinky shit a hetero might be into might be just as essentially and fundamentally impactful. I'm not an essentialist.

I'm going from the perspective not that homosexuality is weird, but that sex itself is weird. There is no "normal" sex. So the "If you're gay we should know because we're supposed to trust you" logic is stupid. There's a lot of shit one man doesn't know about another man.

"We know what a hetero's sexual preference is. he's hetero."

I guess...but if all that matters about an individual's sexuality is "either he's into women or men," then life is utterly dull. Again, I don't think it's so essentialist and narrow, though that's how we think now.

At 2/08/2007 3:41 PM, Anonymous D-Wil said...

Ack! I need to take a walk and wake the hell up!.....

"Amaechi is supposed to reveal this side of Sloan" is how the last sentence should read--- sorry folks. But I hope my prior comment is understood - it's workplace-specific.

And I agree with Shoals that the NBA is better suited to affect change than are other sports.


There is a stumbling block. Its league perception by the very audience Matthew Dowd-David Stern now courts. And that's the perception of the NBA as "the fag's league."

If there's anything that will, at present in this xenophobic, fear-based, WMDs around the corner, newly-fake white macho U.S., make sponsors and some fans run from the NBA and come close to killing the league, it's the perception of the NBA as a (black) fag's league.

Damn, talk about societal emasculation!

At 2/08/2007 3:54 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

Also, Panger, I'm arguing against Lebron's logic there. Why does Lebron need to know whether a teammate prefers sex with men or women in order to trust him? What I'm saying is, does he also need to know if a teammate has a foot fetish to trust him? Does he need to know a teammate only prefers missionary sex to trust him? My emphasis isn't on comparing weird sex to gay sex, but on the stupidity of needing to know that a teammate likes guys when Lebron probably doesn't need to know whether his teammates like redheads or something like that.

At 2/08/2007 3:57 PM, Anonymous LawVibe.com said...

You can check out the John Amaechi "Man in the Middle" book at Amazon here:


P.S. The book is coming out February 20th so it's available for preorder.

At 2/08/2007 3:58 PM, Anonymous LawVibe.com said...

If the link above doesn't work, try this one:



At 2/08/2007 3:59 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Do you guys really think that this is a new issue in pro sports? I mean, don't you think that, over the past 10 years, there hasn't been a gay player in every sports league? You think Amaechi is the first? Or that nobody knew he was gay at the time, when according to most accounts, even some fans knew. Numbers suggest they are gays in every league; logic suggests that they can't keep it a secret, not from their teammates. So I highly doubt this is the kind of thing that would really be hard for other players, coaches, etc. to deal with. Reality is they have been dealing with it for years.

The only people who would be dealing with an openly gay player for the first time would be the fans, and perhaps the larger press.

At 2/08/2007 4:05 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...


here's the issue: "likes redheads" isn't a socio-cultural category. and it's not like "gay" is a category that wishes it didn't exist. there are varying opinions on this, but certainly it's more important to people's identities than "likes redheads."

At 2/08/2007 4:21 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

BS: I'm not attempting to equate sexual preference with "preferences." And certainly it is more important to one's identity--almost always.

However, it's not an essential question like "either you like men or women and that's all that matters." What I'm getting at is that it makes little logical sense for Lebron to not trust a teammate who can't tell him he's gay when there are all sorts of things about teammates he doesn't know. I recognize why being gay is more important in a socio-cultural sense, but it really shouldn't have much to do with trust (you know in "The Sopranos" how Uncle Junior doesn't want anybody to know that he performs oral sex because people will judge him negatively for it?).

Unfortunately, I'm not concentrating enough to formulate the best argument.

Read Michael Warner's essay "Homo-narcissism; or, heterosexuality" for better exploration than I can provide. It's not directly on topic, but there are ideas about how gender is defined in psychology and society in essentialist ways that affect how we view homosexuality.

So, yes, being gay means more to one's identity than what hair color a man prefers, and that makes it a bigger secret, but I'm interested in why. Because being gay does not have to be the primary way a gay man defines himself. I'm thinking of a group workshop I was in--the facilitator asks the group, "Does your race mean more to you than your gender?" and the only person who answered affirmatively in the (mostly white) group was a Hmong woman (a very socially conscious Hmong woman, active in Asian-American student orgs). Now, for me when I leave the house, being male always has more meaning for me than being white. For my Hmong friend, being Asian-American has more meaning than being a woman. And being gay may be the primary definition of a gay person's meaning...but it may not. That's why I don't like Lebron's logic--it assumes that he will define the gay teammate primarily as a gay man, and thus must know that aspect of his identity in order to trust him.

Is that too rambling? I really didn't mean to trivialize homosexuality by comparing it to a preference for redheads. But it's an interesting and too often unexplored area of culture that we let whether a man prefers sleeping with men or women matter in ways that we don't let whether a man prefers sleeping with older women, younger women, fatter women, women of a different race, women of a different class, etc., matter.

At 2/08/2007 4:26 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

Oh, and I'm probably being too theoretical here. I may be thinking from a different paradigm (Queer Theory) that's making my comments appear something other than what they are.

At 2/08/2007 4:35 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

vv--agreed on all fronts, but my point was that "gay" functions for many people as a primary identifier, even if it's a hyphenated one. in the final analysis, what lebron says is unreasonable if the person does identify that way, almost sympathetic if he does.

obviously the reason gay athletes are loathe to come out is that "gay" does trump race and gender in most hetero minds. it's entirely possible that this hypothetical nba player comfortably inhabits the black male role, and he doesn't want this negated. i also don't think "gay" would be such a stigma if it were understood as compatible with other cultural categories.

At 2/08/2007 4:35 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

too theoretical for freedarko? please.

At 2/08/2007 4:44 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

BS--good, I see you understand what I was getting at (I was worried my comments were coming off in a different way).

You're exactly right: sexual preference is for many people "a primary identifier," and it "does trump race and gender in most hetero minds." But, interestingly enough, it doesn't in all fields (I don't think). For example, when I hear the name "Nathan Lane," the first associations I'm going to have are "The Producers," Broadway, singer, actor, "The Birdcage," etc., before I get anywhere near thinking of him as gay. Now, if an athlete becomes identified as a gay, that is almost always going to be the "primary identifier." Which, I guess, makes your points dead-on, since we're talking about the perception of homosexuality in the pro sports locker room, not in musical theater. But for a Broadway actor being gay is not a primary identifier, and for a basketball player it is, and that's why I'm utterly fascinated with this subject.

At 2/08/2007 4:51 PM, Anonymous paper tiger said...

sml- your thought that players are so used to having gay people in their sport has me wondering, with all the homophobic and downright bigotted talk that some athletes occasionally get caught spouting, why are players never "outed" (other than TO's "rat" comments about jeff garcia, i can't think of an example.) are you thinking that the "trust" and locker room camraderie culture really trumps all that aggression and hate? obviously not denying prior presence of gays, it just begs the question, given the context.

and another spot- i think we're not quite detaching gender issues and object choice enough here. i'm betting players (men generally, i should add) would react quite differently to amaechi saying he was a bottom than that he was a top. the gender identity probably plays as much of a role as the homosexual one. that he is gay would surely be an issue, but if he could participate in the language of masculine sexual conquest with his teammates it would surely be "redeeming."

At 2/08/2007 4:53 PM, Anonymous paper tiger said...

and, to clarify, i'm not saying that bottoms can't have male gender identities or that the act negates one. just speaking of perception.

At 2/08/2007 5:09 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

well, at the risk of pissing someone off, in musical theater (and fashion) the de facto male identity is gay (or, more precisely, queer). the generic athlete would be deviant in that context.

At 2/08/2007 5:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There were a few excerpts from Amaechi's book in today's SL Tribune. In one snippet he called the Mormons "blindly unaware and obilivious" to the rather large gay culture in SLC.

Frankly, the Jazz fan base isn't all the different from that of Coffee Garden. You can't throw a basketball into a crowd without hitting a gay man or lesbian.

And on Sloan (nothing we didn't already know):

Jerry raged against players whom he thought didn't play hard enough, claiming they were undermining coaches across the league. If we lost two or three in a row, he would stride into practice yelling, "You fucking assholes are trying to get me fired. I'm not losing my job because you guys aren't hustling."

The whole "love of the game" debate was absurd. Did one of the game's most distinguished coaches honestly belive that the guys played hard for him over the years would love basketball if they were not raking in the big bucks?

I knew for a fact that plenty didn't enjoy the game, because they told me so. Several of my teammates joked that they deserved their fat bank accounts, fancy cars, and mansions just to "put up with Jerry's shit."

At 2/08/2007 6:00 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Paper Tiger: My theory on that is that it ("gayness") is treated as a "dirty secret"; hence, ya, you can out me as gay, and I can out you to your wife as having a secret child with someone else; or out you to the press as a drunk, or whatever. The NBA is a job, like all others; most people know some dirty secret about their coworker, if they are close, or if they travel on business together alot. Now imagine that in the NBA, where you are constantly on the road with your team; where there are handlers and entourages for each player, and trainers... I can't believe players can really keep too many secrets from each other, you know.

And, to clarify my point from before: alot of this discussion centers on "how will the players react (LBJ) or how will the coach react (Sloan, Rivers). This can't be something new for them; as we now know, Sloan did coach a gay player, and knew it at the time (Amaechi's BF would show up to practices). At some point in their lives, whether college, high school, or in the playground court, they have balled with or against a gay player; and, probably more often than you would think, they knew the player was gay.

So, IMO, the discussion should really center around how would the fans react...

At 2/08/2007 6:14 PM, Anonymous D-Wil said...

I briefly addressed fan's thinking in my last comment, but I guess it got lost in the shuffle....

At 2/08/2007 6:36 PM, Anonymous jr said...

sml: unfortunately, no, I don't think that most players and coaches have secretly known about their gay teammates for years. this quote from Sterling Sharpe in reference to his former teammate Esera Tuaolo, who came out a couple years ago and is now a diversity counselor for the NFl, pretty much sums it up. It's from a Chicago Tribune article about the lack out reaction to Amaechi coming out.

_"He would have been eaten alive and he would have been hated for it. Had he come out on a Monday with Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday practices he'd have never gotten to the other team."_

The link is href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/chi-0702080339feb09,1,7707642.story/target="_blank">here.

Granted it's only one guy and maybe that's just football. Still, I find it hard to believe the Karl Malones and various Christian nuts of the athletic world would just accept "gayness" as another dirty secret. I don't think it's a matter of outing people to the press as much as it is interacting with them as teammates and peers. Not to mention the potential for dealing with discrimination from homophobic referees or intentionally hard/dirty fouls from opponents.

On the other hand I'm sure there are plenty of guys who genuinely could care less. Widespread quiet, tacit acceptance seems like pushing it though.

Incidentally, only one male athlete from the NBA, MLB, NFL, or NHL has ever been officially out during his playing career; Glenn Burke, a baseball player for the Dodgers and A's in the late 70s. His happens to be a really, really sad story involving early retirement partially motivated by prejudice (there's some crazy stories about it in his autobiography) and later on drug addiction and a death from AIDS. Not that has any bearing on what will happen when more guys come out, but if there's a Jackie Robinson of gay athletes, it's Glenn Burke.

At 2/08/2007 8:07 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

barkley and kenny: "experts" who worry about the locker room are stupid. we've both played with gay guys. everyone knows, it doesn't come up, it's not a big deal. just play.

kenny also seemed to think this was a gimmick and to sell books. kind of uncomfortable. barkley took it in the other direction and the jet concurred.

charles: "now if a gay guy were just on an nba team to talk to good looking guys and couldn't play. . . that wouldn't be cool. and we'd figure that out fast."

plus this barkley statue is the new jacket.

At 2/08/2007 8:10 PM, Anonymous D-Wil said...


Charles Barkley had this so say on PTI:

“I got a ton of gay friends and I played with gay guys. I played with two or three gay guys; that’s their business and I could care less.”

On TNT he just said, "Kenny, you and I know we've played with gay players."

So, yes players know.

At 2/08/2007 8:11 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

nice timing.

please, someone send me a screen capture of that barkey statue.

At 2/08/2007 8:47 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

exhibit a: barkley (and kenny, sort of)

exhibit b: l.z. granderson's column on his feelings, as a gay sportswriter, on amaechi.

this might be one of those times where i defer to other people. somewhat.

At 2/08/2007 9:17 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

Granderson's column is interesting.

At the same time, put yourself in the mindset of the marginal roster guy. I mean if [pick a star player] was gay and wanted to come out, what can they do to him, and what does it cost him? He's the best player on the team, so they can't really questions him. A borderline roster guy? Will it make a difference as to whether he makes the team to be out? Given the stakes are you going to take that chance?

At 2/08/2007 9:27 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i was waiting for someone to bring up that npr report in some context. they really glossed over the international play option. yeah, it means your nba career is over, but how many d-league guys actually end up sticking in the bigs? they neglected to mention the slim odds of that.

the eddie robinson sector of that story was fascinating, btw.

At 2/08/2007 9:32 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

To be sure, Shoals. There are other obstacles to the European route, such as work permits, wondering whether they will actually, you know, pay you, and the not insignificant cultural barriers. I used to play in a pickup game with American Euro-pros getting/staying in shape before heading back, and they almost universally complained about the culture shock, and how depressing/lonely it was. Some of the older guys talked about how it grew on them as time went by, but the younger ones didn't seem thrilled to be heading back.

I suppose that given that he's British, this would have been less of a concern for Ameachi then for many of the marginal guys.

And all that aside, you still shouldn't underestimate the difference between making the roster and just missing...

At 2/09/2007 2:03 AM, Anonymous paper tiger said...

chuck's face in that statue is terrifying.

At 2/09/2007 11:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

coming here after visiting other blogs is literary equivalent of lunch at mc donald's and dinner at pierre gagnaire's.

as to rob's earlier comment that homophobia is more prevalent than sexism on the web: after gauging the reponse to the amaechi story, i take back what i said earlier. you're right. for example, the anti-gay vitriole coming out of the mouths of some talk radio guys here in l.a. was staggering. and a poll somewhere on the web that asked, could a pro athlete come out, answered decidedly no.

nothing pretty about evolution. guess we just play our parts here and hope 500 years from now, the will and ariel durant of their times will speak kindly of us.

meanwhile, vv, thanks for clarification. i think you summed this whole thing up in three words:

"sex is weird."

definitely my next t-shirt slogan choice.

At 2/09/2007 1:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is great stuff, as always.

One thing missing in this discussion: fandom is inherently irrational. A lot of fans don't particularly care about a player's off the court behavior as long as he can hit a jump shot or block a defender. A lot of folks are rooting for laundry. Its fine -- they are rooting for art individuals perform, not the personality of those who are performing the art.

But when sexuality becomes a part of the discussion, somehow a lot of fans seem to think an openly gay player who is a terrific person is somehow worth our disdain, while a convicted felon who is heterosexual isn't. Why fans seem to have a disconnect on the first issue and are yet able to be hypocritical on the second?

At 2/11/2007 12:45 AM, Blogger JusticeForAll said...

Sorry for arriving late to the conversation. I won't rehash my thoughts on Granderson's piece here (already done that enough), but let me just throw some stuff out that comes to my mind:

The question of whether the sports culture is more sexist or homophobic based on a relatively arbitrary distinction, because in many ways they are two faces of the same phenomenon. The most obvious link is that gay men are actively devalued as being "feminine." On the flipside, many men devalue each other as "gay" when coercing them to treat women in a sexist manner. I'm not saying they're the same thing, but there's a degree of intersectionality (which is an social theory right there) that definitely is at play.
That's sort of my skin-deep analysis, but if you want to delve further, take a look at LeBron's comments about a gay man in the locker room, and someone (was it Shoals?) argued that it would be disingenuous to exist as a gay man while talking crudely about women. Male bonding over domination of women is threatened by those who challenge that paradigm as the standard form of masculinity.
And, as someone mentioned earlier, the aggressiveness of a gay male athlete is very threatening to many men because men are gendered as "physical" and "violent". Since this is so linked with sexuality (Freud, anyone?), it is fine when directed at women. But when potentially directed at other men, it provokes an almost irrational and occasionally violent response (which explains why Matthew Shepard's killers may have actually felt legitimiately threatened by him, despite the fact that logically there was no way he could have hurt them).

At the end of the day, what upsets me most about this type of reasoning (and the comments expressed by Ray Allen and LeBron about "needing to be out in order to form trust") is that relegates the rights of the individual's well-being and safety to a lower spot than that of "the team." Individuals living in an a society that threatens them physically (such as many gay individuals) have their own needs. Who is to say that we are the experts on a closeted gay NBA player's life? We are all the experts on our own lives. They are not on our schedule, and they shouldn't be.

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