Openly Gay NBA Player John Amaechi on Kobe Bryant Anti-Gay Slur, Gay NBA Players, More

Uploaded by MidweekPolitics on 25.04.2011

David Pakman: Joining us is John Amaechi, John is a psychologist, "New York Times" bestselling
author, and former NBA basketball player. You had an interesting commentary after the
Kobe Bryant anti-gay slur which we talked about on my program quite a bit. First I would
like to get your reaction just to the fine component. He was fined $100,000, period,
that was the fine. I'd first just like to get your thoughts on whether you think that
was appropriate given what took place.
John Amaechi: I do. I don't think it's appropriate just because he said the F-word or just because
he said a homophobic slur, I think it's appropriate because of the message it sends out to the
rest of the league that the, you know, if the, perhaps one of the best if not the best
basketball player in the NBA can't get away with it, nobody can get away with it. And
also, when it's relative to the amount of money he earns just in endorsements, never
mind his actual contract, it fades into insignificance. So I don't think it hurts him too badly.
David: Do you think it would've made more sense or sent more of a signal to actually
have him sit a game out?
Amaechi: I think there are two schools to this. One, I mean, yes, it would've made it
clear it's very serious, but there's no normal person who doesn't make $30 million a year
who thinks that $100,000 is not serious. And at the same time, I think you run the risk
of, especially given what's happening in their playoffs already, interfering with that process
in such a way that it only brings more animous on the LGBT community, not less. It's not
that I think public opinion should be the arbiter of punishment, but at the same time,
I think where, especially when you look at what's happened since, whether you like the
PSA or not, whether you like what they've done since, and certainly the apology, that
I think he actually meant, that we got second or third time around, I do think there's been
some movement.
David: Well, you mentioned the apologies. You know, I heard a very common kind of story
in at least one of those apologies which was the apology for people being offended as opposed
to the apology for what was said being completely inappropriate. Did you make that distinction
when you first saw it or heard it?
Amaechi: Absolutely. I'll be honest, that was the thing that really annoyed me most
where I don't... you know, firstly, the abdication of the responsibility. People take issue with
athletes as role models; they are, period. But then to hear the apology that was not
an apology, it was the Glenn Beck... it was the Glenn Beckian classic apology where I
say something outrageous and then I blame you for being overly sensitive. And that's
not how you apologize. You apologize by saying I'm sorry, I was in error. That's how you
apologize, and luckily, although it did take a couple of tries, he has now done that.
David: The other thing that came to my mind was, as you mentioned, whether or not we think
Kobe Bryant should be a role model for children, he is, inevitably, for many children. And
given what's been going on with bullying, two things came to mind when I heard this,
number one was from the point of view of those who may bully kids who they perceive to be
gay or lesbian, does this not in some way reinforce hey, if Kobe Bryant is saying these
types of things, it must be OK for me to, and at the same time, kids who may be gay
or lesbian, when they see this, could it not affect them as well?
Amaechi: Absolutely. And I think one of the things I did not address, I mean, I thought
it was enough words, but I did not address in my "New York Times" op-ed was the fact
that not only when role models, when they say things that are wrong or bad or ill-thought-through,
yes, it certainly has an impact on the intended victim, if you like, or the unintended victim,
but it really also has the impact, often, of emboldening bullies, making them think
that wow, if someone of his stature can do this, then I should do it too. I certainly
found that, you know, back in 2007 when Tim Hardaway said some not complimentary things
about me, I definitely found that as well as impacting a lot of young people, a lot
of LGBT people, a lot of people who were just different, it also impacted in that I got
a lot more insults from a lot of different quearters because I think people felt emboldened
by his words.
David: Well, it's interesting, you mention the... after your book "Man in the Middle"
was released and where... where you came out of the closet, essentially, saying you had
been playing in the NBA, you were gay, Tim Hardaway, when asked very directly how would
he react to a gay player, he said I wouldn't want that, I don't like gay people, basically
just saying I am-- I'm incredibly homophobic and very willing to discuss it openly. After
that happened, did you... what was your sense of the aftermath of that, above and beyond,
you know, the insults you received, but do you think that changed at all the NBA and
what goes on in locker rooms? Is it basically still the same, do you assume?
Amaechi: I think, to give credit to the NBA, I do think that they acted very quickly when
that happened, and I think there were people prior to that incident, there were athletes
who, within the NBA and probably in other sports, who thought that it was... who thought
that the LGBT community, that gay people and gay athletes, were fair game. And then all
of a sudden, things that... things moved into action pretty quickly, Tim was removed from
the all-star game, he was removed from a number of NBA events, and I think people, athletes
and bigots, started to realize that there were actual consequences and that no longer
was it that you can't say anything bad about black people, you can't say anything bad about
Jewish people, but it's OK to talk in terrible ways about gay people. So that was a positive.
David: Is your sense that this is just something very common in the NBA and it's just every
once in a while it comes out, with Tim Hardaway or with Kobe Bryant, or is your sense that
this is isolated?
Amaechi: My sense is that this is pretty common everywhere, that derogatory words about gay
people, about the gay community, are commonplace, and they come from their peers, for sure,
but in some cases, they also come from their team leadership. [Connection cuts] say ignorant
things on a regular basis, it's only certain types of churches, in fairness, and temples,
in fairness, but it does happen regularly. So I think this is simply a reflection of
what is going on all of the time. I only wish that schoolteachers who said words similar
to this got the same kind of attention as Kobe, because to me, someone whose job is
to influence and educate young people is doing as much damage when they fling around their
ignorance in the schoolyard or in a classroom as Kobe did on-court.
David: Well, incredibly, here in the U.S., just last week we were talking about a proposed
bill where teachers, I forget which state it's in, would-- I believe it's Tennessee,
would actually not be able to say or refer to homosexuality in any way, which, as you
can imagine, opens up incredible obvious questions about well, what about characters or authors?
Can you not even refer to their personal background? I mean, it's just a bizarre direction to really
go in. And you're right, the teachers are... should be a bigger concern than Kobe.
Amaechi: Yeah, they should be, and the reality is that that piece of legislation that you're
referring to is devastating. I often tell activists, LGBT and otherwise, human rights
activists in the States, that I think that America's actually regressing. It's going
backwards. And it really does tend to get their goat a little bit. But the fact is that
this law that you're talking about is very similar to a law that we had in England called
Section 28 that forbade schoolteachers from talking about gay stuff, homosexuality, or
even using the word in school. It's an amazingly effective way of marginalizing an entire community
without actually seeming like you're horrible. We don't want to do anything to them, you
just can't name them. But when people become nameless, their humanity drops away, and when
their humanity is stripped, it's much easier to do horrible things to them. We've seen
this with minority groups throughout history, so this is a particularly pernicious type
of legislation.
David: Blogger Alvin McEwen passed along a question for you, and he said what is your
reaction about gay being the new black in the sense of this kind of intentional degree
of invisibility that some LGBTs of color are placed under in the black community, particularly
in the U.S. but really anywhere? How would you react?
Amaechi: I am hesitant anytime somebody talks about anything being the new black, because
I think their comparisons tend to only serve the bigoted minority's purpose. It just tends
to make different minority communities then be at odds with each other. I do think that
it's amazing to me that if you are in the closet as a white person, you are in the closet,
and there's something benign and almost... considered almost healthy, even though it's
completely not, about that, but if you're in the closet as a black person, then you
are down-low. Then all of a sudden, you start getting blamed for a resurgance in HIV numbers
or resurgance in the breakup of the black family, and it, really, there's kind of, there's
a double bigotry that comes if you are both a person of color, especially in America,
and LGBT.
It's a remarkably difficult double bind, because you don't fit in the mainstream, I know that
when I come to America, when I walk out into a gay club of some description, you know,
I mean, I am odd, but there aren't many people like me out there, that's for sure. You've
got to pick a... you've literally got to pick a certain type of club at a certain location
to find people who are like you. And I think we need to be more inclusive in the LGBT community,
and we need to understand that minority groups, over time, when they feel under pressure,
as the black community has been for decades in America, as the LGBT community continues
to be, you tend to come to a position where you actually start sacrificing your internal
diversity on the altar of cohesion. If people see black people as one homogenous thing,
then we're safe there stuck together, so anything that's outlier, anything that's different,
LGBT black people are a threat to that cohesion and therefore a threat of perhaps the outside
world managing to get the best of them. And I think we've got to do better in terms of
defining ourselves and understanding that black is smart, it's clever, it's dumb, it's
all kinds of stuff, it's not just guys who listen to hip-hop with their jeans halfway
down their ass.
David: Two real quick things in the last couple of minutes we have left. Number one is right
now, I mean, how prevalent is gay NBA players? I mean, there's the assumption that, when
you made big news, people asked the obvious question: well, he is coming public with this,
but how many other people are there, and are there many other gay players that have to
live with this constant barrage of homophobia in the locker room? Is that prevalent?
Amaechi: I would say yes. I mean, I know that from my personal experience of players, officials
I know in the NBA and in the NFL and in baseball, there are plenty of gay people, athletes out
there, gay officials out there, many of whom are out in terms of their teammates may know,
officials on their teams may know, but they're just not out to the general public. But there's
a large number out there, I think a number that would surprise people, and people of
profiles and standards of play excellence far superior to mine, that would turn people's
heads. But it's the... the climate right now is not conducive, necessarily, to their coming
out. I know it's the best thing for them, it's the best for their mental health, but
America's still a country where you can be fired in 30 states for being gay, so sometimes
the environment's got to be primed so that you get the role models you deserve.
David: And last thing, you mentioned referees. I followed the Tim Donaghy situation very
closely, I don't know if it was a year, a year and a half ago now, he made the claim
on "60 Minutes" that the NBA influences referees to call games to extend playoff series, in
other words, the more games, the more profit there is. Any evidence of that? Anything you
can shed light on on that front?
Amaechi: I can honestly say I never experienced that when I played. I often felt that as I
got more prominent, as I got to the years that I played in Orlando, which were pretty
much my best years, I did feel as if I got more respect from referees. But I have to
say I also changed the way that I interacted with referees from my early years where I
didn't talk to them and I viewed them as an enemy to my veteran years where we had conversations
and, coincidentally, I got better calls, so... or at least I felt I did. I don't think it's
about extending series, I think it's about people treating referees with respect, and
those people tend to get better calls, generally.
David: So Tim Donaghy's claim that it's on a team-by-team, let's see if we can get it
so that this series goes seven games, no evidence that you know of to that extent?
Amaechi: I have absolutely never seen that, no.
David: All right. Well, John Amaechi, psychologist, "New York Times" bestselling author, former
NBA basketball player, really great to speak with you. Thank you so much for doing this.
Amaechi: It's a pleasure, thank you.
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