When former NBA player John Amaechi recently came out as gay, some professional athletes weren’t supportive.
“First of all, I wouldn’t want him on my team,” Tim Hardaway said in a radio interview with Dan Le Batard last week. “And second of all, if he was on my team, you know, I would really distance myself from him because, uh, I don’t think that is right.”
At Northwestern, student reactions were more sympathetic to Amaechi, only one of six athletes in any of the four major sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL) to announce that he is gay.
“Homosexuality is extremely taboo,” said Medill freshman James Chapin. “I think sports get tangled up in masculinity and are definitely homophobic, and I think that’s something that they should…combat.”
The NBA banned Hardaway from this past weekend’s All-Star weekend for his anti-gay comments, such as “You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.”
But even with the NBA’s rebuke, many said they thought professional sports should be more tolerant of gay athletes. Weinberg senior Mike Sitkowski, the president of men’s club basketball, said he was disappointed to hear Hardaway’s comments.
“Tim Hardaway was one of my favorite players growing up,” he said. “I’m from Chicago, I play his position, and I liked a lot of the things he did, and after something like that, you kind of shake your head.”
But Communication sophomore Lindsey Dorcus said she can understand why some men might feel uncomfortable with an openly gay player.
“I guess there’s a fear there because they spend a lot of time around teammates,” she said. “They worry about them making passes at them, or seeing them naked or things like that.”
The hyper-masculinity of American sports, especially the NBA, breeds an attitude of discrimination, said McCormick senior Leslie Gittings, Rainbow Alliance co-president.
“For pro men in basketball, hockey, soccer, football, etc., it’s about being manly and the brotherhood you have with your teammates,” she said in an email interview. “Since some straight men objectify women, it’s hard for them not to think that the gay men will objectify them. And that makes some ’straight’ men scared. Because sports are very physical, it amplifies the problem.”
Still, Weinberg sophomore Liz Phillips said she felt Amaechi’s lack of prominence in his five-year NBA career and the fact that he is no longer an active player may have restrained reactions.
“If [a more famous athlete] had come out as gay, it would have been a much bigger deal,” she said. “It would have been a lot more polarizing.”
There are also practical problems associated with being openly gay like losing endorsements or jeopardizing contract negotiations, Sitkowski said.
“They don’t want to have to deal with all the issues that would affect their career, if a current athlete were to come out in the middle of it,” said Sitkowski. “It would be really tough for them to concentrate on their sport and to keep playing at a high level while dealing with all the issues that go along with it [like] interviews every day and things like that. Also, I think that there’s a fear of being blackballed by the community, by the players and general managers.”
LGBT Resource Coordinator Doris Dirks said she feels the reaction would be different at Northwestern, however.
“People in higher education generally tend to be more tolerant,” she said.
Sitkowski said he thinks the Northwestern community would be more welcoming of a gay athlete than the population as a whole.
“I think the culture of campus and the way that people are in general here would make it a lot easier,” he said. “They would be a lot more supported.”