"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.