Friday, February 09, 2007

Out of the Locker Room, Out of the Closet

I read this morning that ex-Utah Jazz play John Amaechi has come out of the closet. That's some pretty cool news.

What's sad is that he is only the sixth former professional male athlete to do so, and that he still continues the trend that only former professional athletes feel comfortable acknowledging their homosexuality to their teammates.

Reading through the article, it's clear that all the interviews are meant to reflect a "eh, it's no big deal", laissez-faire, live-and-let-live attitude on the part of the reacting players. But I don't think it worked.

Check out Michael Wilborn's take on the reactions of other basketball players. I think he's got some great points. If I can, I'd like to try to add to them:

While LeBron James's response is spun as a trust issue, he places the burden squarely upon the wrong shoulders. Says James:

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. 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.

Wow. James does a great job of blaming-the-homo there. "I can't trust you if you're hiding something like that from me," he effectively says. Never mind that it's wholly unclear whether Amaechi could have trusted him (or any other player) to not let any prejudices interfere with the game upon such a revelation. (I speak as if they were on the same team; it's just easier that way. I'm referring to any hypothetical gay player on the same team as James.)

And why would any pro player think that it wouldn't change the dynamic and affect the game and the team? Shavik Rudolph's comment -- "As long as you don't bring your gayness on me I'm fine" -- may seem innocuous, but buried in that comment is a mistrust in and of itself. What, precisely, constitutes "bring[ing] your gayness on" someone else? The mind boggles at all the tiny little things that Amaechi would do from then on which would be tagged as "bring[ing] your gayness on" him. And the "awkwardness" in the locker room? That's your problem, not his.

Comments like this are rooted in the popular misconception that gay men will screw anything with a penis between their legs. Get over yourself, Rudolph. You ain't that hot. I wouldn't do you. I have no sexual desire for you whatsoever. There, does that help alleviate the awkwardness in the locker room?*

By the way, thought patterns like that have also generally formed the basis for many a hate-crime. Remember Matthew Shepard and the "gay panic" defense? Quick refresher: "Gay panic" is a "defense" (I use the term loosely) against hate crimes that says, basically, "the defendant did what he did because a gay guy may have hit on him, and he's not gay." (I say "may have" because sometimes it's based the mere perception of being hit on. "The faggot looked at me the wrong way, so I beat him up.") Yeah. So when Rudolph is saying to keep your "gayness" away from him -- well, it's just puts the edge on. Watch your step, Gay Man, because everything you do from now on will be filtered through the "You're Gay" lens.

Besides, if someone were to keep their "gayness" to themselves, what the hell is the point of coming out of the closet at all? Would this mean that Amaechi wouldn't even be permitted to talk about his dating life in the locker room? I can imagine the conversation:

"What are you doing tonight?"
"Nothing, me and my boy are just chilling at home."
"Dude, why'd you have to mention 'your boy'? Don't go bringing your gayness on me!"

If that's the case, hell, it might be easier just staying closeted.

And what's up with Steven Hunter's comments?:

As long as he don't make any advances toward me I'm fine with it. As long as he came to play basketball like a man and conducted himself like a good person, I'd be fine with it."

Okay, I've already addressed the whole "don't make any advances toward me" line of "reasoning." (By the way, you ain't all that either, Hunter.) Your criterion is that he play basketball "like a man"? What, because gay men are sissy queens?** Here's a hint: a really good trey usually requires a limp wrist. Look at your hand after you've tossed your last free throw. You'll see what I mean. Besides, if you're worried about someone prancing around the court in high heels and a dress, you needn't -- the NBA actually does have some standards in terms of ability to play.

And "conducting yourself like a good person" is, I would hope, a standard you attribute to all players, not just the gay ones. And yet it doesn't appear that you've bent over backward to condemn any of your fellow players who have had repeated run-ins with the law, nor have you really said much about on-court bench-clearing scuffles that involve sucker-punches.

Orlando's Grant Hill probably had the best response, recognizing the significance of Amaechi's decision and reflecting on its impact: "The fact that John has done this, maybe it will give others the comfort or confidence to come out as well, whether they are playing or retiring."

* Comments like this echo the military's "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" policy, which suggests that openly gay people can't effectively serve in the armed forces because it would affect morale. Again, though, the burden is placed on the homosexual: stay in the closet, because we can't expect your colleagues to get over their irrational prejudices and we'd just as soon let them cling to those prejudices than let you serve openly as any other soldier would.

** Though I have to admit that, if the straight world's knowledge of gay life is limited to what they see during news coverage of gay pride parades, I can somewhat understand this unfortunate stereotype.

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