Harrowing incident a troubling reminder of homophobia   

Updated: February 18, 2008, 2:30 PM ET

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NEW ORLEANS -- When the eight to 10 guys surrounded me, I knew I was going to get hurt.

When the first one pushed me in the back, I remember thinking I was going to die.

After a second shove, I had no thoughts at all -- only fear.

This is how I spent a portion of my Saturday night during NBA All-Star Weekend -- being gay bashed because the size large T-shirt I was wearing wasn't large enough for someone else's comfort.

As I walked by the group of men -- on my way to the Playboy party, no less -- one of them called me a faggot. Then another joined in. They followed me for a while, continuing to hurl names at me. I tried to ignore it but eventually the "Detroit" came out of me and I turned around and said some things I probably shouldn't have. Next thing I know I'm surrounded and wondering if I'm going to see the dawn and if not for a pair of New Orleans policemen who saw trouble brewing and yelled at the group to break it up, I might not have.

I tried to keep my emotions level and even made an attempt to go on to the party, but I couldn't. I went to a bar on Bourbon Street, had a couple of drinks, walked back to my hotel and allowed one tear to fall as I turned to Claude McKay's "If We Must Die" for peace:

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

So often when we hear stories like the one last week surrounding Brady Quinn -- the Cleveland Browns quarterback was accused of being part of a group that harassed and hurled anti-gay slurs at gays near a bar in Columbus, Ohio, on New Year's Eve -- we kind of brush it off because no one got hurt. Sure, we get Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old Wyoming college student murdered 10 years ago, but anything short of that we tend to dismiss as boys being boys, especially when it involves athletes.

Quinn issued a statement last week saying he wasn't involved in the confrontation. However, when the cops arrived they reported seeing Quinn arguing with a man named Jason Thompson. (A different man made the 911 call and accused Quinn of using the slur.)

I wasn't there so I don't know what was true and what wasn't.

But what I do know is that the incident warranted more attention from the media and the NFL than what was given. I felt that way before nearly getting beat up this weekend and obviously I feel even more strongly about it now. I'm not looking for Tiger Woods/"lynch" controversy attention, but certainly something more than a brief on the back pages or joke fodder for blogs. We should want answers, not hollow apologies and inconsistent PR statements.

I understand commissioner Roger Goodell's plate is a little full right now with Spygate and all, but if he's serious about cleaning up his league, the topic of homophobia in the NFL needs to be included in that conversation. It doesn't matter if he or I or any of you believe homosexuality is a choice or not. There's a little something called respect for human life that should supersede the rules commonly found on the playground. His predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, understood that and was recognized by PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) for the work he did with the organization. Patriots owner Bob Kraft -- who has donated money to the organization -- also understands the importance of tolerance when it comes to this subject.

For those of you who are reading this and believe I'm trying to forward some sort of agenda, let me be the first to tell you that you are absolutely correct. I want a country where it isn't OK to get the snot kicked out of you because you're different.

As long as we as a culture continue to make incidents like the one involving Quinn a news brief, then we as a culture will continue to give credence to the barbaric caste system that has led to several violent attacks and even deaths of people just because they are gay. Contrary to the mistaken notion that brings us comfort, this branch of hate crimes didn't stop once the nation eulogized Shepard. Some of us just stopped paying attention.

A year ago Tim Hardaway was under fire for saying he hates gay people, a sentiment that seemed to be shared by the small, drunken mob that surrounded me. I also suspect those who may not agree with gay people -- but certainly don't hate us -- are far greater in number. When you speak up you can help change hearts, even save lives. That may sound hokey but I know I'm probably able to write this column today because it's true.

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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