To the point week of 2/22/07

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THE WORD WAS ‘HATE’, and when former National Basketball Association player Tim Hardaway used the word to express his feeling toward homosexuals in a radio interview last week; it caused an immediate eruption of emotions and comments from across the spectrum of our country.

For the record, Tim Hardaway was being asked his opinion concerning former NBA player John Amechi’s disclosure in his upcoming book that he is gay. The interviewer asked Tim Hardaway what his opinion was on the matter; and what followed can best be described as a land mine.

Tim Hardaway expressed his opinion, and in doing so he said the following statement: “I hate gay people.”

The outcry was immediate, from ACLU chapters to NBA Commissioner David Stern. All of them scolded Tim Hardaway for his comments – with David Stern also taking the step of “firing” the former player from his duties in traveling the country representing the NBA.

The NBA All Star game was held on Sunday, and Tim Hardaway was told to stay away. He has since been described as “radioactive” by sports figures and reporters; and he now spends most of his day standing behind his privacy gate at his house telling anyone who’ll listen that he didn’t mean it that way.

But I think he did mean it – and I also think, as bad as you may think this sounds – that he has every right to say it.

The First Amendment of the Constitution that each of us lives under each day guarantees us the right to freely express ourselves, regardless of whether others like what we say or not.

It’s the same document that gives people the right to burn an American Flag; or allows the Ku Klux Klan to erect symbols on courthouse lawns along with nativity scenes.

It allows you the right to own and carry a gun – even if you don’t need it. It gives you the right to vote – even if you don’t choose to.

More and more we are living in a society that says, “You have the right to express your opinion, as long as it agrees with mine. If it does, then fine. If it doesn’t, then I have the right to call you a bigot and assist in destroying your reputation and anything else I’d like to do.”

Tim Hardaway was asked his opinion; and he gave it.

He said that he would prefer not to have a gay teammate. He said that he would prefer not to dress and undress for games in the presence of a gay teammate. He said that he didn’t believe that it was a proper lifestyle.

And then he dropped the “H” word.

My family will tell you that there are two words in the English language that I simply cannot stand. I become enraged when someone calls someone else “stupid”; and I can’t handle the word “hate”.

And Tim Hardaway used it.

The problem has several levels. First of all, up until that moment I have to admit that I agreed with most of what he said. I also don’t believe it to be a proper lifestyle (oops, there goes my shot at playing in the NBA), and I believe that for religious reasons – which are also guaranteed through the Constitution.

But you can dislike a lifestyle, but still respect the person living it.

I don’t believe that being a crackhead is an acceptable lifestyle; but I would like to think that we as a society can separate the addiction from the person who lives with it.

Commissioner Stern, in his statement “firing” Tim Hardaway, said that “His opinion is not in line with ours”.

Who, exactly, is “ours”?

Every sports show I watched (and I watch a lot of sports) had reporters saying that as many as 70-percent of NBA players probably shared Hardaway’s sentiments – they just weren’t crazy enough to say it on the radio.

Because Tim Hardaway expressed his opinion, and because that opinion was not in line with his employer or a segment of society, he has been labeled as “homophobic”. In fact, Hardaway himself used that exact word before later retracting it.

What’s really amazing is that Tim Hardaway played his college basketball at the University of Texas El Paso; a college that was formerly known as Texas Southern University; and a college where its basketball program tore down racial walls of segregation in the mid 1960s by starting five African-American players and winning the NCAA championship.

Maybe you’ve seen the movie. It was produced by ESPN – ironically the same company that is publishing John Amechi’s book. If controversy breeds sales, I think they’ve got a winner on their hands.

Tim Hardaway is also African-American, so I can only assume that he has experienced the sting of hatred during his life.

But that doesn’t matter, because you’re only as good as your last sound bite, and if you make a mistake, like Tim Hardaway did in a big way, you may never get the chance to have another one.

I can’t condone the use of the words that he used, but he lives in a society that protects his ability to say them.

Even if some people don’t like it.