An Interview With Cyd Zeigler on Homophobia in the NBA

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In all industries and career paths, the chances are high that you work with a person who identifies as a homosexual; and generally speaking it is a “so what” moment. It doesn’t impact job performance and is a personal orientation that is expressed outside of work time.

Yet the NBA has only one openly gay player (who understood the ubiquitous homophobia in the industry, and came out three years after retiring) and one openly gay team president, who waited decades before coming out publicly.

Kinsey once argued that religion, underprivileged and undereducated sectors of society contribute to homophobic notions. Homophobia is a cultural construct, not something innate in nature, and it’s important that people recognize this, especially in the athletic world where judgment of manliness is the norm.

Cyd Zeigler, the editor of Outsports.com, agreed to answer some questions about homophobia in the NBA. Outsports.com is one of the leading sources on information about homosexuality in the the major sports leagues.

BALLnROLL.com: What do you think contributes to intolerance in the NBA?

Cyd: There is so much that contributes to homophobia in the NBA. It starts on the pick-up court where guys posture to be the strongest, most masculine player out there. They learn quickly that the complete antithesis of what they want to be is this thing called a “faggot.” So they distance themselves from that as far as possible. I personally think the NBA for years has been the most homophobic league of the big four because of the infusion of the anti-gay urban culture in the league. Whereas the NFL’s homophobia in large part comes from religion, it’s that urban culture that fuels the fire in the NBA.

BnR: Only one player (John Amaechi) has come out and he retired before doing so. Do you think there is some level of fear for homosexual players to be openly out in a male-dominated sport?

Cyd: Gay people fear coming out for the first time no matter where they are or what their chosen profession is. When you add in a culture that thrives off of homophobia, it exacerbates the problem.

BnR: Do you think players are concerned about fan reaction? Again, the NBA is a primarily male-dominated industry with many male fans.

Cyd: The fans pay the players’ salaries. They buy the players’ jerseys. They support the companies that players endorse. The fans are the lifeblood of the players, so they most certainly are concerted about fan reaction. But it’s a misguided fear. In poll after poll a vast majority of sports fans, including NBA fans, say they would have no problem if a player on their favorite team came out. So the fear is made up in the gay players’ head: Whatever handful of fans he might lose by coming out, he’d gain five times as many new fans.

BnR: How do you think the industry can move towards becoming more accepting and tolerant?

Cyd: We need more league officials, more team owners, more coaches and more players to make it clear to the public and to their coworkers that they are OK with gay people and gay athletes. With every voice the environment in sports gets better and we get closer to seeing the first out active NBA player.


 

John Amaechi

 

The testosterone-driven environment that basketball tends to thrive in also inadvertently supports homophobic language and actions. In his book, John Amaechi commented that he frequently heard direct or indirect gay-bashing remarks: “Amaechi called Jazz owner Larry Miller a ‘bigot’, said former teammate Karl Malone was a xenophobe and said coach Jerry Sloan “hated” him.”

The most famous example of backlash from one of Amaechi’s teammates came from the mouth of Tim Hardaway.

Hardaway stated that, “[F]irst of all I wouldn’t want him on my team. Second of all, if he was on my team I would really distance myself from him because I don’t think that’s right and I don’t think he should be in the locker room when we’re in the locker room. Something has to give. If you have 12 other ball players in your locker room that’s upset and can’t concentrate and always worried about him in the locker room or on the court or whatever, it’s going to be hard for your teammates to win and accept him as a teammate.”

This kind of fear of what can happen in the locker room, or to his attention span, is unfounded on anything other than bigotry and irrational thinking. This statement is not even as harsh as I am sure Amaechi heard in the change room, since this was for an interview, but the undercurrent of hate is still very present in Hardaway’s voice.

While Hardaway did receive a slap on the wrist for his comments, it does nothing to address the roots of his homophobia to actually change how he and other NBA players view gays. As Cyd indicated, the more voices in the industry speaking out in positive terms about homosexuality will allow fans, agents, team owners and even the companies who give endorsements to be more accepting of all lifestyles.

Hopefully with more attention being drawn to gay athletes in all areas of the sporting world, the urban mentality can be replaced with a more harmonious and accepting one.
 
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COMMENTS

Spud at 14 Jan 2012

Walking in the presence of giants here. Cool tihnnkig all around!

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