Former NBA player Tim Hardaway during his tenure with the Miami HeatRetired NBA great Tim Hardaway was asked about homosexual former player John Amaechi yesterday on a radio program. Host Dan Le Batard inquired how Hardaway would react if he knew that he had a homosexual teammate. Hardaway’s response has raised a storm of negative reactions.

Here is a direct transcription of the excerpt broadcast on ESPN:

Le Batard: How do you deal with a gay teammate?

Hardaway: [pause] "Whoa! Uh, first of all, I wouldn’t want him on my team. And, uh, second of all, if he was on my team, uh, I would, you know, really distance myself from him because, um, uh, uh, I don’t think that’s right, and you know, I, I, I don’t think that, you know, he should be in the locker room while we are in the locker room, and it’s just a whole lot of other things, so I, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t even be a part of that; but you know, there’s stuff like that going on and there’s a lot, uh, of other people, I hear, like that, people in the closet and don’t want to come out of the closet, but you know, I just leave that alone."

Le Batard: You know that what you’re saying there, though, Timmy, is flatly homophobic. Right? It’s just flat, it’s just bigotry.

Hardaway: Well, you know, I, you know, I hate gay people. So, uh, uh, you know, I let it be known. I don’t like gay people; I don’t like to be around gay people. I don’t, you know, uh, I yeah, I’m, I’m homophobic. I don’t like it; it shouldn’t be in the world today or in the United States for it, so yeah, I don’t like it.  

That’s all transcribed exactly from the ESPN clip. Regarding prevailing attitudes in the NBA, the following exchange occurred, according to multiple print sources:

Hardaway: The majority of the players would ask for him to be traded or they would want to get traded.

Le Betard: But you’d be trading him to a team where he probably wouldn’t be wanted there either, I would imagine.

Hardaway: Right, that is true. Just buy him out his contract and let him go (laughs). You know, something has to give. If you got 12 other ballplayers in your locker room that’s upset and concentrate and always worried about him in the locker room or on the court or whatever, you know, it’s gonna be hard for your teammates to win and accept him as a teammate.

Clearly Hardaway was sandbagged by the questions, as indicated by the number of "uhs" in his response (which I have retained in my transcription in order to convey this discomfort, not to suggest that Hardaway is inarticulate, which he is most certainly not; he has, on the contrary, always come off in interviews as quite intelligent).

Hardaway was obviously not expecting to be asked about homosexuality in a radio conversation about basketball—ordinarily a reasonable expectation, but one that no longer applies now that former NBA player John Amaechi has publicly declared his homosexuality in an attempt to sell more copies of his autobiography which went on sale yesterday.

Confronted later in a telephone interview with a Fox affiliate in Miami, Hardaway retracted his use of the word hate:

Yes, I regret it. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said I hate gay people or anything like that," he said. "That was my mistake.

Some observations:

One, the use of the word hate was wrong and intemperate on Hardaway’s part. He was right to apologize for that. (Of course, there are degrees of hatred, and not all of them are toxic, but that is a discussion for another time. Hardaway’s use of that word was definitely inflammatory and poorly conceived.)

Two, note the condescending and openly hostile attitude of the radio host. He calls Hardaway "Timmy" at this point, whereas Hardaway has always been called Tim. Clearly, the host is suggesting, I think inadvertently and therefore quite tellingly, that Hardaway is an inferior person, something of a child whom the host has the authority to remonstrate for naughty behavior. This is also evident in Le Batard’s willingness to characterize Hardaway’s statement as "homophobic," like some modern Puritan denouncing the former player as a witch. Le Batard then says that Hardaway’s statement is bigoted, again taking on the role of a superior upbraiding his inferior.

This openly superior and condescending attitude is very interested indeed as directed toward a man of African descent. That’s not usually acceptable these days, but seems to have gone unnoticed in this instance.

Clearly Le Batard was trying to distance himself from the unexpected anti-homosexuality comments of a revered former NBA player, to save his own reputation in addition to stating his own position. The host’s invocation of cant terms such as "homophobic" and "bigoted" shows that he knows what is and is not socially acceptable to say, and that this is all about power, not logic. More on that later in this post.

Three, Hardaway’s statement that he doesn’t want anything to do with homosexuals may or may not be a reasonable preference, but it’s certainly something people should be allowed to talk about in public. If we’re truly going to have a free society, we’re going to have to hear things we disagree with once in a while. And we’re going to have to answer them with reasoned arguments, not attempts to suppress the discussion.

Four, if people are going to be logically consistent (an unlikely premise, to be sure), Hardaway could stop all the controversy in a moment by simply asserting that he is genetically predisposed toward disapproving of homosexual behavior. Hence, he could argue, he cannot be held responsible for, or even criticized for, this genetically programmed behavior.

The fact that no one has identified such a gene is immaterial; nobody has looked for one yet. Surely one must exist, Hardaway could argue, given that so many people so strongly disapprove of homosexual behavior and that such attitudes have been so prevalent and persistent throughout human history. It is actually a highly plausible argument, he could say, given the evolutionary imperative for heterosexual behavior in creating children. Certainly the idea of an anti-homosexuality gene is every bit as plausible as the notion that there is a gene predisposing people toward homosexual behavior, he could argue. In fact, he could point out, it makes rather more sense in evolutionary terms.

And if it is wrong for society to seek to thwart or even disapprove of homosexual behavior because it is genetically programmed, he could observe, it must also then be wrong for society to attempt to thwart or even disapprove of people’s dislike for homosexual behavior, because that, too, is genetically programmed.

Hardaway could argue that the two positions—approval or disapproval of homosexual behavior—are clearly on equal footing, as far as both genetics and political-social freedom are concerned.

The real difference between the two positions is that one is politically powerful at this point and the other is not.