Tolerate Those You May Dislike

By Jason Whitlock
Updated: February 18, 2007

LAS VEGAS– Let me join John Amaechi in thanking Tim Hardaway for the outrageous comments he made on Dan LeBatard’s Miami radio show.

Amaechi is happy because Hardaway helped him sell a lot of books last week. By emphatically stating that he “hates” gay people, wouldn’t be comfortable around a gay teammate and is proudly homophobic, Hardaway turned Amaechi from a has-been below-mediocre former NBA player into the ultimate talk-show guest.

The author of Man in the Middle — Amaechi’s autobiography about being an in-the-closet gay NBA center — surely will take a seat on Oprah’s couch before too long.

I want to thank Hardaway, a retired five-time NBA All-Star, because I love when sports issues become social issues. And really the last thing I wanted to do in Vegas was write about the All Star Game, the slam dunk contest, the rookies vs. sophomores game or whether Sin City deserves an NBA franchise.

Amaechi-Hardaway has all sorts of interesting subplots. The angle that continues to show up in my e-mail box and voicemail is the outrage of some African-Americans that gay people’s struggle is being compared to black people’s.

The opinion has been expressed by me and other sports commentators that Hardaway’s comments are doubly shocking because as a black man he should be more sensitive to people who face discrimination.

The complaint among some African-Americans is that being gay is a behavior that can be concealed to avoid discrimination. Being black is not a behavior, and it cannot, nor should it be, concealed.

This is all very true. No question about it.

But intolerance is intolerance. And hate-filled intolerance should be avoided at all cost, especially by those who have been the victims of it.

It’s important that Hardaway’s comments and mindset be strongly rebuked. I applaud NBA commissioner David Stern for removing Hardaway from all NBA All-Star Weekend activities. Obviously Stern had to take action for public-relations reasons.

But it goes deeper than just good p.r. It’s a rejection of a mindset that leads to human atrocities.

I’m not here to debate whether humans are born gay, turn gay as a result of family dysfunction or choose to be gay. We, even religious scholars, are not smart enough to determine that cause. What we should be smart enough to do is not concern ourselves with passing judgment on non-violent, non-criminal behavior between consenting adults.

It is, in my opinion, fair to disapprove of homosexuality. It’s simply an opinion about a behavior. Opinions about physical characteristics (skin color, ethnicity) are unfair and potentially dangerous.

You follow?

Take my parents. Good people, the best. They have a negative opinion of interracial dating. They disapprove. But it ends there. It’s just an opinion, not an action.

You can disapprove while taking no action, while expressing no hatred, while doing nothing to hinder someone else’s pursuit of happiness. When I’ve dated outside my race, my parents have never been disrespectful to me or the woman. They have accepted that I have no real racial boundaries, and simply hope that whoever I date convinces me to attend church regularly.

Hardaway owes gay people and gay athletes the same respect. He can have his opinion. He needs to lose the hatred and the implication that gay athletes should be denied access to teams.

It is natural to have biases — racial, sexual, political, etc. It is improper to allow those biases to control your behavior toward people who don’t share your bias.

When I was an athlete, I disapproved of many of the things my teammates did, including the overindulgence of alcohol, drugs and steroids, and I’m sure they disapproved of some of my behavior. Even though some of our behavior impacted the success of the team, we managed to coexist and tolerate each other.

America, above all else, is about coexisting and tolerating. We don’t all have to be best friends and share the same lifestyles to respect another individual’s right to enjoy the same freedoms we demand/enjoy.