On Sunday, Feb. 11, former NBA player John Amaechi announced that he is gay, sending shockwaves throughout the world of professional sports. Amaechi, who played center for Orlando, Utah and Cleveland in five seasons with the NBA, is one of only a handful of professional athletes in history to publicly come out.
On Wednesday, Feb. 14, former NBA player Tim Hardaway publicly admitted to being a homophobe and to hating gay people on a Miami radio talk show. Hardaway said that he would not have wanted a gay player on his team and claimed that he would try to distance himself from any teammate that admitted to being gay. Hardaway later apologized for his comments, but the damage had already been done.
Regardless of his personal beliefs, what Hardaway said was rash, ignorant and embarrassing. He spoke without thinking clearly about the consequences of his words and without regard for other NBA players. He should have realized that as a former athlete and a well-regarded public figure, he has the responsibility of owning up to any statement he makes to the public. To admit that you flat-out hate someone for who they are is an unacceptable mistake to be made by someone like Hardaway. It is no different than if he were to make a racist or sexist comment, and the press has not treated it any differently.
It would be very na've to think that Hardaway is the only basketball player who doesn't like gay people, but the difference is that other players knew better than to admit it. There are certainly plenty of athletes in the world who are uncomfortable around gay people, for whatever reason, and it is not something they can easily change, but they don't make public statements saying that they hate gay people, or that they think it is wrong to be gay.
Perhaps Hardaway was caught off-guard by questions about gay basketball players, as the topic did come up at the very end of his interview, but all athletes need to show a degree of diplomacy in their public statements. As this incident has shown us, the public takes a professional athlete's words very seriously, and admitting that he or she hates anyone can only hurt that athlete's image. The NBA should just be thankful that all of its players aren't as outspoken and brash as Hardaway.