Friday, February 16, 2007

The Hardaway

The following post may be construed, in some quarters, as racist, classist, homophobic and/or just plain ignorant. I don’t care about any of that, however, because it’s my version of reality – and believe me, I’ve been in enough locker rooms to know.

We’ve got a gay NBA player swimming in the pool now, albeit a former, somewhat marginal one. John Amaechi came out of the closet in his new book, titled “Man in the Middle,” excerpts of which were released to the media this week. Good for Amaechi, I say. We are who we are and all that, and there’s no sense denying who we are if the associated repression becomes too much to bear and we’re in a position to help others avoid ‘suffering’ the same fate. Blah, blah, fucking blah. He seems like a decent guy, so if this is what he wants to do, and it makes him happy, I’m all for it.

Then, yesterday, we’re treated to former NBA All-Star guard Tim Hardaway – who, incidentally, I used to love watching – telling a radio show that he “hates gay people,” and that homosexuality “shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.” King of the killer crossover indeed. Just not off the court, evidently.

Now comes the fallout. We’re shocked that someone – especially a multimillionaire quasi-public figure like Hardaway – could possibly go on the air and spew such former-colleague-inspired bile. We’re stunned, not because a media-savvy veteran athlete should know better than to make a spectacle of himself in public, but because we can’t believe people still think like this. Particularly so here in the Northeast, where a thin, yet ubiquitous, veil of tolerance has increasingly served to muffle the NIMBYist cries that still emanate from what have to qualify as America’s most sanctimonious suburbs.

Why we’re surprised is anyone’s guess. To my thinking, these things work the same way with drugs, or violence, or the sexual proclivities of people who’ve escaped certain sets of circumstances to become whatever it is they are. Back in the eighties, we marveled at Mike Tyson’s once-in-a-generation combination of speed, power, skill and fury. We laughed our asses off as he malapropped his way through one interview after another, and we shook our heads in bemused knowingness when Robin Givens emasculated his ass on national television.

All in good fun, right? But when you consider the guy’s background, and the fact that he was, in fact, a professional fighter, why was anyone shocked when the guy was accused of raping someone at a beauty pageant? Or when he bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear? Or when he told Lennox Lewis he wanted to “eat his children,” and also, essentially, that he wanted to rape him, jailhouse-style? Surprised, maybe. But shocked? Why shocked?

And what of Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony? He leads Syracuse, as a true freshman, on a magical run to an NCAA title, segues smoothly to instant stardom in the NBA, then goes on to move more logo merchandise than the rest of the league combined. Pretty fucking marvelous, right? When you lift the veil, however, make sure not to avert your eyes.

Why are we, again, shocked when the guy ends up starring in a Baltimore drug dealer’s “Stop Snitching” video? Why are we outraged when, in the course of a bench-clearing on-court brawl during a game with the New York Knicks, Anthony backpedals his way down the court, throwing a cheap sucker punch at a New York player only when he felt there were enough people between him and the recipient of the punch to prevent him from being hit back? I see people execute this same move all the time where I work. They’re called Guidos, regardless of race – yes, there is such a thing as an African-American Guido, at least in my book - and many of them come from the same environments as did Messrs. Tyson and Anthony.

They’re athletes, folks. Athletes. For the most part, they’ve never had to think in terms of accepting consequences or “tolerating” things like the rest of us.

Lest you assume I’m thinking racially here, I’ll include myself in the mix. I’m not immune to this sort of thing either, and please indulge me as I make my point. I’m well aware of not having grown up in Brownsville. Thing is, people see that I have this little writing thing going on, and they think they know me because they’ve read so much of what I’ve had to offer, for good or for bad. As a result, they think, upon meeting me, that they’re in the presence of a rational human being who’s divested himself from all forms of violence in favor of hiding behind trees and jotting notes in the margins of poetry volumes.

The shining successes of our world, however – the happy, well-adjusted acculturates – don’t generally become nightclub bouncers. No matter how many words I devote to deconstructing the “bouncer stereotype,” we can’t escape the fact that we are where we are because something went wrong somewhere along the line. So why, should we go on a date, are you surprised when I end up threatening to break someone’s arm on the subway? I’m trying my best, folks, but I’m still a schmuck and I fear I’ll be one for a while longer, potential successes notwithstanding. It’s damned near impossible to get away from certain things, even when the terrain on which one treads is constantly changing for the better.

Point is, what the fuck does anyone expect? You take a flawed individual – and by flawed, I mean “made his living playing a fucking game” - who was raised in a less-than-tolerant environment and worked in one for the majority of his adult life, and then you stick a microphone in his face and ask him what he thinks about homosexuality? How fucking self-righteous do we look when we act like we’re mortified when the locker room – or the break room, squad room or living room – rears its head on a public stage?