Intolerance is un-American   

Updated: March 29, 2007, 12:04 PM ET

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"We lost to a bunch of dykes," my daughter, Darci, announced when she returned from a volleyball game in the eighth grade. Both my wife, Patti, and I exclaimed at the same time: "Darci!"

I went on to tell her that she knows we do not talk that way about people in our house, that "dykes" was a derogatory way to describe gay women and that I was disappointed and shocked that she would use such language. As I was to learn four years later, Darci was probably just testing the waters for support as a prelude to her coming out during her senior year in high school. But, that was later. At this time, I, like any good parent, was not letting the topic drop and was going to use this as an opportunity to teach a life lesson.

I explained to Darci the evil of hate. I told her that the Nazis concentrated on extermination of two groups of people: Jews and homosexuals; that she, as a Jew, should not and could not perpetuate bigotry toward another group. I told her about more than 900 Jewish refugees who sailed from Germany aboard the Hamburg-American Line ship St. Louis in 1939 to escape the Holocaust, only to be turned away by the United States, even though America knew they faced internment in Nazi concentration camps if returned to Europe. America, the land of the free, turned them away because they were Jewish. That is what happens when people are dehumanized by prejudice; there is no limit to the consequences of hate.

Darci now tells me that I laid it on somewhat thick that day, something she would accuse me of when dealing with nearly any topic. I remember one evening when she was in high school, my wife told me that Darci was doing a report on the birth of the American Football League and Darci had asked her some questions. Patti told me she asked Darci why she just didn't wait until I came home and ask me. "Because," said Darci, "I don't want to know that much about it."

When Darci told her mother and me that she was gay, she knew she would not diminish a bit in our eyes; in fact, she was elevated because I cannot think of a greater act of social courage than for a teenager to announce he or she is gay. Teenage years, the hunger for popularity, the drive to belong -- all knowingly thrown away by the announcing teen.

I was reminded of this when I read and heard the comments of former NBA star Tim Hardaway, who proclaimed, seemingly with pride, that he hated gays and that there should be none in the United States. How sad it is that Tim felt perfectly comfortable that he could make such a proclamation in our society without fear of rebuke. He was wrong about making such statements with impunity, as the NBA quickly showed him by withdrawing its invitation to him to participate in activities during All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas. Gays are the last minority that people feel it is acceptable to malign. Imagine the social pain and job opportunity limitations of being both black and gay. Tim, don't you get it? Hate knows no boundaries. The same young people you are encouraging to join you in your hate of gays are a mere step away, if not there already, from hating blacks because they are black.

I have reached the conclusion that Tim should not be vilified for this transgression. Why? Because he has been brought up in an American culture that encourages such beliefs, and such beliefs are not only constantly reinforced by those members of the clergy who claim that it is God's words they are following, they are often encouraged in the sports culture. Tim has apologized. He seems sincere and on the road to enlightenment. Let's look to our own hearts, our own intelligent reasoning.

I recognize that those who proclaim their disapproval of the gay community often cite the Bible in support of their position. So I decided to read both the Old and the New Testaments to find out if, indeed, a reasonable person could ascribe to God a condemnation of gays. First, let's start with "What Would Jesus Do?" That is easy -- Jesus does not utter a single condemnation of gays in the New Testament. And for those of you who are not familiar with the Bible, Jesus appears only in the New Testament.

Now, let's look at the Old Testament. The preachers of hate can only cite two references to homosexuals in the Old Testament, in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: "Thou shall not lie with mankind as with womankind." So odd that the preachers of hate, and I include many scholars of religious studies in that category, feel they can pick and choose what they believe to be God's commands as stated in the Old Testament. Let's look at some of God's other commands -- ones they choose to ignore.

Please note that God said nothing about women lying down with women. So is that OK? If you are a member of the clergy who demonizes gays because of this biblical reference then you must also conclude that God does not object to lesbian relationships. To conclude otherwise would mean that you believe God made a mistake and forgot to exclude females from same-sex relationships. I am certain that these same clergy members believe that He cannot make mistakes, so they have some explaining to do. But, to proceed:

Command (Leviticus 11): Do not eat rabbit, pig, lobster, crab or shrimp. Memo from Tim to the public: "Close down all barbecue and seafood restaurants."

Command (Leviticus 12:3): Get circumcised. I don't see a long line forming for this procedure.

Command (Leviticus 20:10): Adulterers should be put to death. That's right: DEATH. There goes over half the married world. Bonnie Weil, Ph.D., a known relationship expert, has opined that 70 percent of married men and 50 percent of married women engage in adultery.

Command (Leviticus 23:3): You shall do no work on the Sabbath. Goodbye, professional football.

Command (Leviticus 19:28): You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you. We have just lost the 75 percent of NBA and NFL players who sport tattoos.

I could go on, but there is no need to do so. The hypocrisy of those who pick and choose which of the alleged commands of the Lord to obey is galling. Each of the cited commands has equal footing with "Thou shall not lie with mankind" and, yet, many choose to ignore these allegedly heavenly admonitions. Surely more than a little has been lost in the many translations of the Bible. Surely more than a little of a writer's personal preference has been thrown in.

I think it's safe to say that no one truly knows the will of God; we are all just trying to figure it out and those who are closest to figuring some of it out are most likely those who perceive the Creator as an embodiment of kindness.

Now, back to Earth. Athletics seems to perpetuate an anti-gay culture, but it should not. Athletics has often been ahead of the general population when it comes to judging people on their worth as individuals. In 1959, Willie Wood and I were co-captains of the football team at the University of Southern California. We held that position at a time in our nation's history when 99 percent of the fraternities at USC would bar us from membership because of our race and religion (Willie: black; me: Jewish). The fact that society had not caught up meant nothing to our primarily white, Christian teammates. They felt we were made of the best stuff to lead them and so they elected us as their captains.

In the early '60s, with the civil rights movement just in its infancy, Sid Gillman, my head coach with the San Diego Chargers, started assigning training camp roommates by position, so that there would be a natural integration of the team.

Again in the '60s, an American Football League All-Star Game was scheduled in New Orleans. Upon arrival to that city, our black players could not obtain taxicabs or gain admittance to restaurants. We informed the coaches that we would not play in New Orleans, and the game was moved to Houston. Shortly thereafter, New Orleans, fearful of being deprived of an NFL franchise, desegregated.

Athletics has always brought people together from diverse backgrounds and demonstrated the obvious: Basically, people are more alike than they are different. And with that recognition, prejudice evaporates.

My daughter was elected captain of the rowing team at San Diego State as a junior. Her teammates came to realize that she was no different than them: hardworking and fun-loving. A teammate of hers related an incident to me that I suspect won their hearts. She said that the team was at a major competition and that Darci and some of them were looking at girls on the other teams and speculating whether they were gay or not (self-deprecating humor always being an icebreaker). When one of her teammates wondered if this one particular girl was gay, Darci said that if she wasn't, she was first in line. And everyone roared with laughter.

When gay athletes stay in the closet, their teammates do not have the opportunity to see gay people for what they are, as opposed to the silly stereotypes portrayed in movies and television. When I played with the Oakland Raiders, one of our players, Dave Kopay, was gay but did not declare it until he was out of football. Dave was everything one wanted in a teammate: serious about his sport, tough and hardworking. Sexual preference should be a matter of privacy, but there is no denying that the more gays become openly recognized as a regular part of our society, the more prejudice against them will diminish.

It is generally thought that gays make up between 5 percent and 10 percent of the population. If that is true, then gays have been a part of most teams that every athlete has played on.

It is difficult for a gay athlete to come out. Too often coaches use derogatory terms against others to attempt to motivate their teams. A number of years ago, I was contacted by a psychologist on behalf of the athletic director of a major university and asked to speak at a retreat that was being held for the coaches. The purpose of the retreat was to sensitize them to the feelings of the gay athletes. As explained to me by the school psychologist, there were four gay athletes who had come to see him because of extreme depression. The athletes had not come out. It was common for the coaches on their teams to call players "faggots" when trying to motivate them to play better and harder. Coaches are parental figures to most players. For these athletes, it was the severest form of rejection, and two were suicidal.

When I spoke at the retreat, I told the coaches that fostering prejudice against any group, for any reason, was unacceptable and that was particularly so in an educational environment. I told them that one of the most common derisions that coaches use against their male players is to compare them to girls, and that builds disrespect for girls at an early age. Some coaches responded with the same garbage argument that kept blacks segregated from teams in our unenlightened past: that having gays on the team would make it more difficult to coach because not all players would get along with them. Tough! They'll live through it.

When I speak to high school teams, part of what I tell them is that they enjoy the great benefit of being admired athletes and that they did not get there by their own efforts alone, that they had the support of others. I ask them to give something back, and do it now; I remind them that they occupy a position of influence in the school and that high school can be difficult for some because teenagers are so sensitive about fitting in, about being accepted. Help them out, I tell them. Take the time to talk to kids who do not seem to be part of the mainstream. Talk to that gay kid. Talk to the overweight girl. Talk to that unattractive boy. Talk to that nonathletic good student (might not be a bad idea, because you may be working for that good student some day).

Those involved in athletics are quick to claim that participation in athletics is greatly beneficial because it fosters so many favorable traits such as teamwork, respect for teammates, respect for opponents and the value of hard work, of discipline, of not giving up, of experiencing defeat but not being defeated. Yet, for gay athletes, athletic participation can be a horror of deceit and humiliation as their secret eats at their souls with each anti-gay joke or slur coming from coaches and teammates.

A coach is a teacher. It is time for all coaches to continue to teach the inherent values of sports and add respect and fairness for all people to the curriculum. In this way, the coaches can create an environment that will allow gay athletes to be comfortable in being true to themselves, and athletes need to practice only one virtue: sportsmanship.

It is gut-wrenching to read about the number of teenagers who are disowned by their parents because they are gay. The highest rate of teen suicide is among gay youth. Yet, with all these scars from childhood, the group of gays I met through Darci is the most accomplished, caring group of persons I have ever come across: doctors, lawyers, pilots, police officers, artists, athletes and every other occupation one can imagine. Folks, they walk among us and contribute to the common good. Darci has a master's degree in education from Boston University and is currently a police officer, including work as a detective for her department. Prior to that, she managed and designed a recreational program for inner-city youth in Boston. She was recently accepted to law school.

Tim Hardaway advocated that gays should not be in this country. If this country had a policy of retention or rejection of its citizens based on their contribution to the common good, I suspect that both Tim and I would be on a boat out of here long before Darci.

The futurist Buckminster Fuller described our planet as "Spaceship Earth." Essentially, he meant that we are all in this together as we progress from birth to death and that our actions impact the planet and others. On the journey, we all experience elation and disappointment, joy and pain, and profound despair with the illness and death of loved ones. Do we really have time to consciously, without justification, hate others?

We have grander things on our plate as we attempt to fulfill the American Dream: justice for all.

Editor's note: Ron Mix is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and practices law in San Diego. Sound off to Page 2 here.


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