The Matter of Brendan Haywood

I'm always skittish about calling attention to an episode like Brendan Haywood's appearance on Hardcore Sports Radio, in which he implied, rather explicitly, that the spiraling Stephon Marbury is gay:

  • On a given day -- even in the offseason -- there's so much insightful stuff out there to aggregate, highlight, and discuss. Why offer a platform to ill-informed commentary that does little, if anything, to advance the conversation?

  • Stephon Marbury is over-exposed, and the rubbernecking is becoming unseemly.

  • On a personal level, I have a steadfast desire to never become the designated "gay NBA blogger" who functions as a quasi-watchdog on this issue. Tribal and identity politics bore the hell out of me and, sadly, I'm always underwhelmed by the contributions of those who enter a cultural conversation with a grievance as their primary motivation. I'm in this business because I love the pro game. Some of my happiest moments come when I'm analyzing the on-court choreography of these incredibly talented athletes. I recognize that the socio-political features of the NBA can't be ignored, and often provide us a chance to discuss larger issues and we'd be remiss to pass up those opportunities. That being the case, I'll enter the fray when I think there's something valuable to add to the conversation that isn't being discussed.

Fortunately, there are enough eloquent voices making sense of this issue. To wit, if this interests you in the least, please read Kelly Dwyer's piece over at Ball Don't Lie. Dwyer first highlights Haywood's comments, which sadly, to fully understand the fracas, need to be processed:

"At first it was cool, but after a while it just became disturbing. He's on YouTube crying with no shirt on for no reason, sweating while his boy's rubbing his shoulders. What's that about? That's like gay porn. I don't understand it. He's dancing to a song called 'Barbie Doll', doing like stripper moves. I have no idea what's going on with the guy, it's almost like he's trying to end his own career. There's not a GM out there that would touch Marbury right now.

Have you seen the 'Barbie Doll' clip? Click on YouTube and go to Barbie Doll. There's no way any other professional athletes would wanna get dressed around this guy, because you gotta think something is a little, he's swinging from both sides of the fence."

Dwyer then goes to work:

... Haywood is freaked out. And because he's never had to think about this sort of thing, weird = gay. Different = gay. Shirtless = gay. Stephon = gay.

And it's pathetic. It's as sad and pointless as Marbury's ego-driven trip down Dementia Ave.

Brendan, guess what? You've likely had a gay teammate, at some level, dressing around you since you started playing basketball. More than likely. Even more assured is the absolute fact that you've had a gay member of the media in the locker room after the game while you dress.

And somehow - and I know this is shocking, but just try to hang with me here - they've managed to not jump your bones as you walk around in a towel, or less...

Somehow they've managed not to hit on you. Somehow they've managed to act ... well, like you would in a situation like that. You think a gay man dressing near you is some sort of threat? Why? Do you flip out and start dry humping women at the beach when they pass by you in string bikinis? Do you think that typical levels of restraint and tact and human dignity fly out the window just because a person's orientation is different than yours?

This is basic, almost numbing, stupid stuff. This is stuff I shouldn't have to type out in 2009, because it's so obvious. So plain. So ridiculously simple...

We can cheerfully think of a downright nauseating phrase like "no homo" as some sort of progress. Progress for troglodytes that we still keep needlessly making excuses for, perhaps, but hardly progress of any sort.

And we're still chuckling off Haywood's comments as a "boys will be boys" thing. Totally, bro.

The problem isn't that boys shouldn't be like that. Boys, in 2009, should be smart enough to know better. Boys, in 2009, should have people in their ear; not telling them what is politically correct enough for public consumption, but informing them. Educating them. Telling them that it's quite possible for an initial and incorrect assumption likely fostered sometime around the week when Haywood first developed underarm hair might not be the case, in reality. Telling them, bro, it's not like that. It really isn't.

I'm one of those gay members of the media Dwyer's referring to.

Over the past season, I've overheard a talented second-year player in a locker room, overwhelmed with amusement that cigarettes are referred to as fags in many Angolphonic countries, go on a Rain Man-ish recitation of the word.

"Fag, fag, fag, *laughter*, fag, fag, fag. *more laughter*"

What followed was a longer conversation -- one that included a superstar widely regarded as one of the NBA's most enlightened players -- ridiculing gay men and discussing how to avoid them ("stay away from San Francisco!"). All the while I waited five feet away for an interview.

It may come as a surprise, but I don't take a lot of umbrage at these incidents. It's par for the course. These are young guys who, by virtue of their preternatural talents, have existed in a bubble for the majority of their lives. Does that make their behavior acceptable? Of course not. Do I feel guilty for not being more offended? You have no idea. How do I attenuate that guilt? By hoping that, over time, my presence in those locker rooms and the work that comes out of it will do much more to educate these men than a public scolding would. Is that naive? Perhaps.

To this end, I invite Brendan Haywood, savvy, ambitious, cutting-edge media voice that he is, to join TrueHoop in a thoughtful discussion of these issues.

UPDATE: A nominal apology from Haywood on his blog.