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Commentary: Tim Hardaway Does The Right Thing

 

“I don’t like to be around gay people. I’m homophobic. I don’t like it…I hate gay people.”

Four years ago Tim Hardaway uttered those words. Words powerful enough to alter a legacy and shatter a reputation. Words with enough meaning to create a destructive, likely irreversible consequence. The league’s reaction to their speaker was swift separation, like a butcher knife to a steak’s artery clogging fat. The public reaction was horrified disbelief. How could someone be dumb enough to say that on the radio? Faster than it once took him to magically transform his defender into a folding chair, Hardaway’s image mutated from King of the Killer Crossover to homophobic bigot; it was well-deserved.

Speaking as someone who grew up in a particularly accepting environment—with well over a handful of homosexual friends and members of my family—my personal reaction to Tim Hardaway’s intolerance was strenuous. Growing up he was a basketball player I emulated everyday, practicing elusive ball handling moves on make-believe opponents until I was confident enough to showcase them in a real game; watching the mid-90′s Miami Heat with no rooting interest besides Tim Hardaway’s individual success.

When it came time to make this website, Hardaway hung over my conscience. I tried to separate “I Hate Gay People” with “I Love When Basketball Players Make Each Other Fall”, but, obviously, that’s a very difficult thing to do. I stayed away from including him for a few months and chose not to place his image on my banner, realizing in the end what he represented spreads wider than a simple basketball move, and it wasn’t something I aspired to align with.

But deep down a small part of me felt bad for Hardaway. Everyone in this country has a fair opportunity to speak without fear of imprisonment or punishment, and the five-time All-Star chose to take advantage of that right and express himself demonstratively—as a public figure unaware of his own cultural significance, and the self-destructive aftermath his words would quickly create. Hatred is strong enough to project people as one-dimensional. Hardaway learned this the hard way. But he learned, nonetheless.

“It’s not right to not let the gays and lesbians have equal rights here,” said the 44-year-old, who has been working with gay rights groups in Miami and is now lending an assist to El Paso’s “No Recall Group,” opposing the recall of Cook and City Reps. Susie Byrd and Steve Ortega, who voted to re-establish domestic partner benefits for gay and unmarried partners of city employees.

“If I know El Paso, like they came together when the 1966 team won a championship and Don Haskins started those five guys,” Hardaway said, “I know the city will grow and understand that gays and lesbians need equal rights.”

Hardaway told ABC-7 his “change of heart” came from those closest to him.

“My family and friends came to me and were like, ‘What are you doing?’” Hardaway said. “I talked to them and they made me understand that wasn’t right.”

Hardaway, whose jersey was retired last year by the Miami Heat, has only recently begun to gain acceptance back in NBA circles. He is currently the vice president of community relations for the Heat.

Just as freedom of speech is one of our great nationalistic satisfactions, so is redemption. When mixed with time and an understanding majority, a sincere apology will usually yield forgiveness. But a sincere apology does not come in the form of words. A sincere apology in such a serious circumstance is only powerful when presented in physical action. Last Thursday Tim Hardaway subjected himself to the public in a non-basketball related way once again, standing up for the equal rights “Gay and Lesbian people have no right not to have.” He could easily have sat for his remaining days as a recluse, living in the shadows as a private dweller whose legacy was bulldozed from beloved NBA player to condemned philistine, but he didn’t.  It was brave for him to speak out in what could publicly be seen as an artificial attempt at regaining the admiration he once had, and if he truly believes what he’s saying—which I believe to be the case—then Hardaways’s cultural standing should change once again. Instead of celebrated professional athlete and owner of one of the most feared basketball moves this game has ever known, Tim Hardaway should be seen as something far more important: A compassionate human being.

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