Sunday, February 18, 2007

What to Do About Tim Hardaway?

Tim Hardaway was a superb point guard when he played in the NBA. He was noted for his excellent passing, shooting, and "killer crossover" dribble that left men guarding him glued to the floor as he flashed past them for an easy open shot, assist, or dunk. Unfortunately, he has recently achieved notoriety of a more dubious nature. During a recent radio interview in Miami, he had some unflattering things to say about homosexuals in the wake of ex-NBA journeyman John Amaechi's recent coming out as a gay man who remained in the closet during his brief tenure in a decidedly gay-unfriendly NBA. Hardaway said that if he knew a gay player was on his team, he would have asked that the player be traded because:

"First of all I wouldn’t want him on my team. Second of all, if he was on my team I would really distance myself from him because I don’t think that’s right and I don’t think he should be in the locker room when we’re in the locker room. Something has to give. If you have 12 other ballplayers in your locker room that's upset and can't concentrate and always worried about him in the locker room or on the court or whatever, it's going to be hard for your teammates to win and accept him as a teammate."

Even after the host of the program criticized his remarks, he proceeded to say, "I hate gay people. I let it be known I don’t like gay people. I don’t like to be around gay people. I’m homophobic. It shouldn’t be in the world, in the United States. I don’t like it." And he embraced and added to those comments in another media interview later that day. Only later did he apologize by saying, "Yes, I regret it. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said I hate gay people or anything like that. That was my mistake."

The fallout of Hardaway's comments was predictable and immediate. NBA commissioner David Stern barred him from participating in activities scheduled for this weekend's All-Star game in Las Vegas and from future appearances for the league, and he was subsequenly fired from his jobs with the Indiana Wildcats of the Continental Basketball Association and with Trinity Sports.

I don't like what Hardaway said, but the consequences he has faced in the aftermath have me asking some questions of myself that I'd like to share with you.

Should he have been fired for what he said? A case can most certainly be made that when someone represents business organizations very much in the public eye, it is entirely proper to fire that person if he conducts himself in ways not in keeping with the philosophy or rules of conduct of those organizations and that could adversely affect their reputation and bottom line. As Commissioner Stern stated, "It is inappropriate for him to be representing us given the disparity between his views and ours."

On the other hand, what terrible thing did he actually do? He said what he really felt and thought without urging that violence be committed against gay people (unless one takes his "It shouldn't be in the world..." as an incitement to such violence), and he probably spoke for the majority of NBA players. As John Amaechi himself said in reaction to Hardaway's remarks: "Finally, someone who is honest. It is ridiculous, absurd, petty, bigoted and shows a lack of empathy that is gargantuan and unfathomable. But it is honest. And it illustrates the problem better than any of the fuzzy language other people have used so far."

Moreover, I wonder how Commissioner Stern would have reacted if one of the NBA's current or past superstars--say LeBron James or Michael Jordan--publicly expressed similar sentiments. Would he have abruptly terminated THEM too from all present and future official involvement with the NBA? Was what Hardaway said really bad enough to get him fired, especially in the wake of the formal public apology issued through his agent?:

"As an African-American, I know all too well the negative thoughts and feelings hatred and bigotry cause. I regret and apologize for the statements that I made that have certainly caused the same kinds of feelings and reactions. I especially apologize to my fans, friends and family in Miami and Chicago. I am committed to examining my feelings and will recognize, appreciate and respect the differences among people in our society. I regret any embarrassment I have caused the league on the eve of one of their greatest annual events."

Suppose Hardaway had said something like this on that radio program:

"I have to admit that I hate homosexuals. After all, my Christian faith says that homosexual acts are a sinful abomination, and I confess that, given my upbringing in a black culture with a real antipathy to homosexuality and homosexuals, I've found it awfully difficult to stop at just hating the sin instead of also hating the sinner. I'm not proud of this, and I'm working on overcoming it. But I personally would find it very difficult to play on the same team with someone I knew to be homosexual. What's more, I think it could cause a lot of problems with the team given the fact that many players feel the same way I do about gays and would also feel very uncomfortable having a gay guy showering with them in the locker room. Not only that, but I also believe that having an acknowledged gay player in the NBA sets a bad example for impressionable young people. So, I think that openly gay people should not be allowed to play in the NBA."

Would this have been better? It invokes an almost universal Christian belief that gay sex is abominably sinful and sounds virtuously open and honest while nevertheless admitting personal shortcoming. Yet, in essence, it says pretty much what Hardaway actually did say.

Suppose Hardaway had not said he hated gays, only that his faith condemns gay sex and that he thought having an openly gay guy on the team and in the locker room could cause team dissension and set a poor example for youth. Would that too have been unacceptable? Would the expression of ANY negative opinions about gay people or gay players in the NBA have been unacceptable and deserving of immediate firing, and, if not, where should the line be drawn between acceptable and unacceptable criticisms of homosexuality?

And now suppose that a player or other representative of the NBA or some other sports organization came out and publicly announced that he hates people who hate homosexuals and thinks they should not be in the world or this country and that they should be fired from their jobs? Would it be right to fire THIS individual as well for his own hateful and derogatory comments?

I don't know exactly how to answer these questions. I'm inclined to think that Hardaway should not have been fired, especially if he issued more apologies. But I DO know that, as unpleasant and unfortunate as I found Hardaway's comments to be, I hope he gets a second chance.


CC said...

I believe you are absolutely correct, Nagarjuna.

If a Christian based his hatred and prejudice against gays by reason of his Bible, then I think everything would have been just hunky-dory.

Just WHAT would Stern have done if Hardaway teamed up his prejudices with the Bible's exact like ones?

I hope the next homophobic NBA player who speaks up does just that and we see if Stern handles it the same way as he did with Hardaway.

Thanks, CC

Tom said...

An excellent post.

I think you hit the nail on the head with your remark "A case can most certainly be made that when someone represents business organizations very much in the public eye, it is entirely proper to fire that person if he conducts himself in ways not in keeping with the philosophy or rules of conduct of those organizations and that could adversely affect their reputation and bottom line."

Hardaway is in the public relations business and for that reason he had an especially keen responsibility to know what he was saying and understand the implications. Thus, I don't think it is an issue of the measure of how terrible his remarks were; it is a measure of profound failure in the direct responsiblities of his job.

In another job -- say as a player -- I would think that he shouldn't have been canned.

CC said...

Tom, I've yet to see what Hardaway's "business organizations" have "written in stone" as a "philosophy" or "rules" before I can say for sure they had a right to fire him.

Thanks, CC

Nagarjuna said...

Yes, CC, I wonder what Stern would have done if Hardaway had explicitly tied his opinion of homosexuality to the Bible or simply argued that having an openly gay player on the team could cause friction (no, not THAT kind of friction), or if ex-players Michael Jordan or Magic had made similar comments? Would THEY have been banned from All-Star Weekend and all future appearances for the NBA?

You make a good point, Tom. Hardaway's jobs with the basketball organizations for which he worked were presumably PR jobs, and he showed gross negligence or incompetence at THAT with his remarks. But do you think there is nothing negative he could have said about homosexuals or homosexual players that should have exempted him from being fired, or do you think he simply stepped over some kind of line between what was and wasn't permissible to say of a negative or critical nature?

Beyond that, how do you think we should respond, not as employers but as the general public, when people make the kinds of comments Hardaway did?

Tom said...

cc: I think he was in a management position with the Wildcats and Trinity. They would have a pretty broad right to end his employment. Even if his wasn't a PR job, he is a representative of his employers 24/7. His remarks, in the entertainment/sports industries, is severe. You have to be non-controversal and give your organization a positive, likable, friendly reputation. He needed to be "on" at all times; acting on behalf of his organizations.

nagarjuna: Generally, I very much believe in giving people the freedom to say whatever they feel like. The good in that is you hear the truth from people. I'm not disposed to hammer Hardaway.

BUT, as you and I know, the civil rights movement in this country was aided by lots and lots of societal pressures. We wouldn't have gotten as far as we have as fast as we have in the last 40 years if being racist and segregationist wasn't met by intolerance by society.

So, being intolerant of Hardaway's remarks can be helpful to the gay rights movement. Still, I think we have sort of moved beyond being a pressuring and "intolerant of intolerance" society. So, again, I would give Hardaway a break. I was happy to read that Amaechi was remarkably comfortable allowing Hardaway to have his say.

ned said...

As a bisexual person who has grown up in an extremely homophobic Islamic patriarchal society (Pakistan), I also resonate with your thoughts here.

Here's a similar incident I know of, and one that seems more extreme. The ABC television show "Grey's Anatomy" used to have (African-American actor) Isaiah Washington playing "Dr. Preston Burke". Apparently, Washington, in a moment of rage due to the absence of a co-star on set, called said co-star a "faggot". It then turned out that this co-star was in fact gay. It became such a huge issue that Washington was eventually fired from "Grey's Anatomy" and won't be appearing on the next season.

What makes this even more ridiculous and petty is that Washington (a) issued a public apology admitted to having issues; (b) went in for anger management therapy; (c) filmed a pro-queer ad for GLAAD. Honestly, what more could the queer community want from him? Seriously, let it go! (Besides I really liked Dr. Burke on "Grey's Anatomy".)

Obviously I don't know the exact context of what happened, but what I'm saying is that the solution to such problems is not just to "punish" the perceived "oppressor" in a knee-jerk kind of way. Nothing is ever that black and white, because all of us have a common enemy which is our own inner darkness. There has to be some point where people from oppressed groups start to move beyond the victim mentality and start taking responsibility for themselves. If someone else is being reactionary, why should we make the same mistake?

For me, I often think it was a huge advantage that queer people don't have any sort of voice in Pakistan. It forced me to become self-reliant, to deconstruct the "gay identity", and to detach from it, effectively, so it no longer remained such a huge deal.