Can hate destroy one man but save another?   

Updated: September 12, 2007, 4:38 PM ET

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I hate gay people.

Four words that ignited a national debate and gutted the life of Tim Hardaway.

I am not gay.

Four words that ignited a national debate and ones Sen. Larry Craig hope will piece his life back together.

I don't particularly care how Hardaway feels about gay people, nor do I care about Craig's sexual orientation. But I am a bit irked at how the onetime NBA star -- and to a lesser degree Steven Hunter and Shavlik Randolph -- could be so viciously demonized back in February for expressing a mentality that Craig is obviously pandering to six months later.

Yes, there are the late night TV jokes about Craig's sexuality and questions about whether or not the Republican party would even welcome him back, but more attention -- and criticism -- needs to be placed on Craig's calculative and malicious attempt to sanitize himself.

By linking his lewd conduct arrest to a person's sexual orientation as opposed to the true indicator of a criminal -- his character -- Craig is perpetuating the sexual predator stereotype associated with gay men. This stereotype is the root of why athletes such as Hardaway and Hunter are uncomfortable with the thought of sharing a locker room with an openly gay teammate. They believe such a person would be compelled to make sexual advances or at the very least, check them out in the showers. Craig is playing up to that belief by saying he is incapable of peering into someone's stall and soliciting sex because he is straight. By making the discussion about his arrest one of sexuality as oppossed to character -- after all he could have said "I am not an adulterer" or "I am not a Peeping Tom" -- he is subliminally feeding into the fears some in our society have about gay people.

This is far more repulsive and damaging than Hardaway's comments because "I hate gay people" is an obvious strong opinion that people can consciously agree or disagree with. Craig's "I am not gay" is covert. Think of a parent hiding peas in the mashed potatoes of a toddler's dinner -- we don't think we're being fed a message, but we are. It's the same message Craig sent when he voted against including sexual orientation in hate-crime bills. Hardaway was attacked for repeating that message. If the retired athlete can be demonized and lose his post-playing livelihood for bigotry, then what should become of the disgraced policy maker who helped lay down the foundation for that bigotry to exist and thrive?

Why should Craig be allowed to wiggle his way back into good graces because of legal technicalities while Hardaway is unable to work in his field again? Closeted or not, Craig's "I am not gay" press conference is just as hurtful as Hardaway's comments, and he should not be allowed to get away with it. Especially since who Craig is publically trying to gain sympathy from is someone who privately agrees with aspects of Hardaway's comments. I don't support Hardaway's comments, but he's since apologized, and I hope he is allowed to work in the NBA again. Fair is fair. Since Craig has been allowed to use an "I am not gay" defense and some in the media refer to the arrest as part of a "gay sex sting" as oppossed to a "public sex sting," it's unreasonable to hold athletes such as Hardaway to a standard society as a whole is far from achieving.

When athletes share their feelings regarding the issue of gays in sports, we're so busy analyzing and ridiculing their every word, we overlook what they are really trying to say. I know I made fun of Randolph for saying "as long as you don't bring your gayness on me, I'm fine" in response to the Amaechi story this past winter. What Randolph was trying to say is "don't hit on me in the bathroom stall," a scenario reinforced by not only the accusations surrounding Craig, but the senator's word choice in his subsequent attempt to withdraw his guilty plea.

"I am not gay."

It's as if he believes the gender of the person in the stall next to him determines if peeping inside is a crime or not.

I know, I know. It's conceivable he hit on a man. But there's a big difference between looking for a date for Friday night and a quickie with a complete stranger in an airport restroom. The difference is in the character of the man, not his sexuality. If the leaders of this great nation of ours are unable to make that distinction, then it is unfair to single out athletes for the same.

When Hardaway was under fire, pundits wondered how could he utter those four, hurtful words. I believe the answer lies in the four words uttered by the slimy man from Idaho.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Page 2. He can be reached at l_granderson@yahoo.com.


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