The media has a habit (and I’ll just say a habit) of manufacturing stories. You’re witnessing it right now with Russell Westbrook and the apparent “feuds” between him and Kevin Durant and/or head coach Scott Brooks. When Brooks benched Westbrook for not executing properly, the media began to make links. Links like an intense anger from Russell Westbrook, a lack of trust from Brooks in his point guard or even a frustrated KD getting an opportunity to play without Westbrook. But the truth is that Westbrook didn’t have a great game and Eric Maynor and James Harden were simply better on that night. 90 some odd games Westbrook is better than those two put together and deserves minutes down the stretch—but he didn’t there. It doesn’t mean that there is a feud or that there are serious chemistry issues.
But the media makes it into a bigger story than it needs to be. They want to scoop up scandal and aggression between the, once buddy-buddy, now combatants, Kevin Durant and Russ Westbrook. I’ve written about this before when Chris Paul spoke glowingly about Michael Jordan at a Jordan Brand event! After that bombshell shocker, the media took it as a sign. Chris Paul, quite possibly the best point guard in the league now, wants to go to Charlotte.
Let me repeat. The media’s ‘logical’ conclusion from Paul speaking highly of Jordan at a Jordan event was to say that Paul wanted to play with Gerald Henderson, Tyrus Thomas and D.J. Augustin. Please. Luckily that one died fast.
But it happens again and again. It’s not always the media’s fault though. Durant and Westbrook don’t exactly provide good writing material. How many times can you write a cute, personal story about Durant’s now-famed backpack? Eventually you need some controversy, some animosity and most importantly—a story! ‘Durant v. Westbrook’ sounds a lot more interesting than ‘Durant and Westbrook totally friends and are enjoying playing basketball—especially together and by the way, how awesome is Kevin Durant’s backpack’.
Look, in order to make a living you need to write stories and try to dig stuff up and blow it up. It’s never ‘Westbrook had a bad game, but totally understands coach’s decision’—it’s always ‘Westbrook looks angry’, ‘Westbrook won’t work with Durant’, “Westbrook isn’t a point guard’. And we’re getting on him too much. His team’s in the Western Conference Finals, he’s an all-star and Scott Brooks, who is no idiot, had been playing him the whole way through.
At a certain point, we can’t keep writing these stories because they aren’t organic. They’re like McDonald’s meat—call it meat, looks like meat but it ain’t meat. This kind of manufacturing of stories may look and seem like sports writing—but it’s not. It’s just made up fantasies of shocking drama.
But this isn’t my point. I’m not going to be a righteous preacher and say the media should stop. You have to make a living and sometimes when you dig deep enough into a story you actually might find a bit of truth. But sometimes, it goes beyond that.
My point comes from listening recently to comments made by Charles Barkley regarding Rick Welts, president of the Phoenix Suns, coming out last week. While the media made it into a story—which it was—they began to discuss the homophobic nature of the NBA workplace. Surely, there is some degree of homophobia in the NBA—but Barkley doesn’t think it runs as rampant as many sportswriters claim. Even though no athlete has come out yet doesn’t mean everyone is a homophobe. Barkley made that point very clear stating how people pick on macho jocks thinking they will be insensitive to gay teammates. He also had an interesting line on the B.S. Report (Bill Simmons’ podcast) when he said that he wouldn’t care at all if a teammate was gay, but he would care if he sucked at the sport.
I’m with Barkley on this one. I really don’t think NBA locker rooms are the homophobic capitals of the world. It’s no San Francisco but I’m almost positive there are NBA players who know about their teammates’ sexual orientation. But why aren’t more players coming out? I don’t think anybody would be so opposed to having a gay teammate (I’ll discuss this more later).
But the media is making us believe in this ultra-homophobic, ‘I wouldn’t want to be in the same shower room as this guy’ culture. And while homophobia is likely more prevalent in the NBA world, I certainly don’t think that a gay player would be ousted or discriminated.
(And by the way, why we do we still have the image of everyone showering in the same room after the game? I’ve seen NBA locker rooms on TV. How in the world would they not give each player their own shower—perhaps even personalized with their name, jersey painted on the walls and television replaying their all-time greatest plays?)
We’re in a new world. Not necessarily in a world where homosexuality is permitted but rather that its opposition is not. Even if an NBA player felt uncomfortable for whatever reason, they would be insane to stand up against it. I know exactly how it’s going to play out when the first NBA player comes out. It will get released and the next day all the reporters will be asking the players what they think about their teammate. Using my time travelling abilities let me tell you each of those quotes:
“He’s a teammate. He’s with us. We don’t look at him any differently”
“All we gotta focus on is winning. And he helps us do that. As long as we’re winning, I want that guy on my team”
“He’s a friend of mine. I’m totally supportive of any decision he makes”
“We don’t even talk about this stuff. We’ve been going through the same rituals. We went to shoot-around this morning, looked at film. Everything the same. We’re a basketball team”
“I don’t know why we’re making a big deal out of this”
I know exactly why we’re making a big deal out of this. I know why no NBA player wants to come out. Once someone comes out, the player then begins to shift extra focus on his team. The media circus trying to ask every player about how they feel about it when the reason it’s a big deal is because it’s manufactured. Just like the Russ Westbrook issues. They don’t exist but the media invents them.
You won’t see a guy say how he doesn’t like changing in front of him or guarding him. Even if he did, he’d wise up. Being opposed to gay rights just isn’t a smart move these days. The NBA world would support him. Magic Johnson would be on ABC Sunday broadcasts giving him props, Stuart Scott would call him brave, David Stern would call it a non-basketball issue, PTI would have 45 seconds of Wilbon and Kornheiser in complete agreement and John Hollinger would come up with some statistic to praise him. Point being, the NBA is ready for a gay player to come out.
And I’m not sure if it’s a homophobia that’s preventing a player from coming out. Sure, it’s factor. And of course, there are players that oppose it—which is unavoidable in any workplace, even today. But it’s not like your normal desk job guy coming out at your office. It’s not the same because there won’t be a media frenzy around the issue, but for an NBA player there will be. If I was a gay NBA player I wouldn’t want to come out. It’s not necessary. Tell my coach, teammates, and general manager? Sure. But why do I want to distract the team and create unnecessary attention.
Here’s a tougher issue—which was brought up in the Simmons’ podcast as well. What happens if a player was religiously opposed to playing with the guy? If God-fearing Player X told management he wanted out because he didn’t want to play with a gay teammate, what would happen? Now we have two conflicting rights we feel we should honour. On one hand, we have someone’s religious freedom and on the other hand we have someone’s own personal lifestyle decision. Simmons said that player would be out of the league because no team wants to trade for the homophobe.
It brings up a much larger question that’s beyond sports. It brings up an ultra-Orthodox Jewish newspaper from Brooklyn apologizing for removing Hillary Clinton from a photo in their paper but still standing behind their policy of not showing women in the paper. It brings up in Saudi Arabia a story of a woman who protested a law—by driving (talk about an odd form of civil disobedience). It brings up Bin Laden and how we know where religious extremism can leave us.
I don’t intend to go down that path any further because it will detract from the original purpose of this column—but it’s a difficult question to tackle nonetheless that is worth mentioning and thinking about.
The fact is that really, outside of some sort of religious objection, the idea of a gay NBA player wouldn’t face very much friction around the league. Barkley’s right. The media has painted the jocks as vehement homophobes when it’s just not true. Would there be some opposition from NBA players? Certainly. It would be ludicrous to suggest that every NBA player would be totally fine with this. I even find myself, someone who thinks your sexual orientation shouldn’t determine your rights, feeling uncomfortable around some degree of homosexuality. I’m not sure why, but I just am. I have no problem with it and in fact support it, but when Cam and Mitchell kiss on Modern Family it’s not the same as when Phil and Claire kiss. I take notice of it. It looks out of place. I know it’s been drilled into cliché levels, but Seinfeld was dead on with their take on gay people—I’m not gay…not that there’s anything wrong with it. We’re not opposed to gay people, but it’s not the same as saying you have brown or blue eyes yet.
But even with that uncomfortable feeling and perhaps some legitimate opposition, I think we’d see the NBA welcome gay players into the family. It’s a league that has honoured and will always honour excellence in basketball. Period. If Dwyane Wade, Lebron James, Dirk Nowitzki or Kobe Bryant came out this off-season I can assure you they would be respected. People would want to play with them. They would get selected for all-star games by the fans and they will all end up in the Basketball Hall of Fame and even more likely at David Stern’s Sunday morning legends’ brunch every All-Star weekend. If you can play, you have a place in the league.
We won’t be surprised what happens when a player comes out. Did you hear anybody oppose Rick Welts’ decision? So, when every article on ESPN, SI and your local newspaper talks about how welcoming and open minded the NBA and its players have been to the first openly gay player in the league, remind yourself that the exact same people that are praising the league for breaking down a barrier of a homophobic culture are the ones who created that idea in the first place.
The same way they create stories about Russell Westbrook’s chemistry issues with Kevin Durant. You know, how he won’t pass to him. Check out this little tidbit I found:
“Russell Westbrook has assisted on 54 of Durant’s baskets in the 2011 playoffs. Not only is that the most assists any player has on a particular teammate’s buckets in this year’s playoffs, it is double the next highest total (27, by Rajon Rondo/Paul Pierce and Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki)”
Now you get what I mean by ‘manufacturing a storyline’.