John Amaechi: Interview

By Jeff Walsh

John Amaechi is the first NBA player to ever come out of the closet. His new book, "Man in the Middle," has started a dialogue about homophobia in the NBA, which was confirmed when another former player went on an anti-gay tirade when asked about hypothetically playing with an openly gay player on their team.

Not being a huge sports fan (which is a nice way to say I really don't like any sports), the book was a surprisingly easy, entertaining read. There were some amusing gaffes as a result, though. At one point, Amaechi talks about something putting him on the DL, and I kept thinking, "Umm, you've pretty much been on the down low for the duration of this book?!" Of course, he meant disabled list. There are a few sports terms that cross that line throughout, although contextually, it's more humorous than confusing.

Amaechi is currently working with the Human Rights Campaign as part of their coming out program, and recently spoke with Oasis about his life since the book's release.

I just finished reading your book like two days ago, how has the reaction been compared to what you might have expected going into it all?

I think I expected a lot more negative reaction than I received, which was nice.

It seems to run the gamut from (Dallas Mavericks owner) Mark Cuban ("(An openly gay NBA player) would be an absolute hero to more Americans than you can ever possibly be as an athlete, and that'll put money in your pocket.") to (former NBA player) Tim Hardaway ("I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States.") As much as there is a notion that the NBA is homophobic, it seemed like most of the reaction was players kind of doing the whole things of saying it would be OK... and then adding the tag that it would be need to be kept in check or as long as he doesn't check me out. There's always that caveat at the end.

But, hold on, that is homophobic. It's the ultimate in insidious homophobia.

So, you think it's just political correctness masking homophobia?

How is it politically correct to say something so absurd?

It seems they always try to sound progressive.

So, we've established that they're not being... essentially, the key is you've got somebody who says 'As long as they don't touch me, I don't mind them.' Now, substitute black for gay and tell me if it's acceptable. So, it's not. I don't think it's particularly positive. Again, what I have to say is that what I'm doing is not about homophobia in the NBA. It's just not that important. There's only 300 people there. Do you know what I mean? This is about a global issue in a country where, from the top down, it is legalized for people to be abused and stereotyped and treated (? 2:28). If all my work were only going to affect the NBA, I'd be really disappointed.

That seems to line up with one thing I read, because you hear people champion tolerance as some sort of a goal, which you also dismissed as anything we should be trying to achieve. It seems to be the same thing, like, who only wants to be tolerated?

Precisely. Again, I tolerate anchovies on my caesar salad. But people shouldn't be tolerated. Accepted, embraced, all of these things, but tolerated suggests a power differential between two types of people. It suggests that one is one class of citizen, and the other is another class, a lower class.

One thing I'm curious about is that I'm not a huge sports fan, so on one hand I was kind of like, if there's a lot of gay people that aren't into sports, and a lot of sports people who aren't into gay issues... as I was reading it, I was trying to figure out the audience for your book. I don't mean that in a negative way, but I was trying to figure out who's gravitating to it.

Well, you've read the book, haven't you?

Yes.

So, you know that it isn't really a sports book.

But it seems like it is marketed that way. I only know it isn't a sports book because I read it.

I don't think that's true. I've done 320 interviews. If you've heard me talk and think it's a sports book, then you're just not very smart. It's not a sports book. Again, I can't control what people think about it. It's not my job to try that hard and control what people think. They have to read it and pull from it what they can. The fact is that the people who have read it, and less than 30 pages contain anything gay and people think it's a gay book. But I can't control that. I hope that whoever does buy it gets from it something positive. Something that they otherwise might have missed. That is all I can hope for. But I can't control people's perceptions of me and my book.