Former Golden State and Warriors and Miami Heat point guard Tim Hardaway is best known for three things — his incredible crossover dribble, his status as a member of Run-TMC, and his homophobic remarks after ex-NBA center John Amaechi came out as gay in 2007. Hardaway received major criticism in the wake of those comments (plus a minor punishment from the league), and the impact has continued to be felt in the years since. The controversy occupies a prominent place on his Wikipedia page and remains associated with him well into retirement.
To his credit, now-Detroit Pistons assistant coach Hardaway has learned from the experience and become an advocate for LGBTQ causes through several organizations. As he says in a new feature, though, he will never feel able to undo the pain of his inflammatory remarks. From Tim Bontemps for The Washington Post:
“Well, you know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known,” Hardaway said on the Miami show, hosted by ESPN personality Dan Le Batard. “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. So, yeah, I don’t like it.” […]
“When I said what I said . . . I still cringe at it when I think about it, and [it] still hurts me deep inside that I said something like that because I gave people an opportunity to hurt people,” Hardaway said in a recent phone interview. “That wasn’t right . . . each and every day when I talk to kids today and they bring it up to me or somebody brings it up to me, I say that was a very big mistake on my part.
“It hurts me to this day, what I said, and you know what? It’s going to hurt me for the rest of my life, because I’m not that type of person. I feel bad about it, and I’m always going to feel bad about it.” […]
In the years following the radio interview, Hardaway has become an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights, including working with The Trevor Project, a nonprofit group that focuses on suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth. He also became the first signer of a petition to legalize same-sex marriage in the state of Florida. In 2011, Hardaway attended a rally in El Paso — where he had been a college star at UTEP years earlier — to support the city’s mayor, John Cook, who was facing an attempted recall vote (which later failed) after allowing domestic partnership rights for gay and unmarried couples.
Bontemps notes several other efforts by Hardaway, including a phone call to Jason Collins shortly after he became the NBA’s first active player to come out as gay in April 2013. He also quotes Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy, also a Heat assistant during Hardaway’s final years with the club, in praise of his former player’s change of heart.
It would not take high-level interpretive gymnastics to position this article and Hardaway’s advocacy efforts as an attempt to change his public image for personal benefit. After all, the piece is tied to the possibility that Hardaway will be named to the Basketball Hall of Fame after three years as a finalist. Yet it’s to the credit of both Hardaway and Bontempts that this opportunity to reach one of the pinnacles of the sport never overshadows the former’s personal growth. His insistence that he now finds his statements hurtful shows real remorse. For Hardaway, the chance to make amends is a lifelong process, not a task he can fulfill with a bit of sensitivity training and non-mandated community service. His change of heart was just the start of his attempt to make things right.
Hardaway’s turn towards advocacy is not necessarily the story here. Plenty of people say hateful things (whether homophobic, racist, classist, etc.), get criticized for them, and only further entrench themselves into those beliefs. Education and public shaming often have no effect at all — if anything, they often convince people they’re more right than they previously thought. There’s no way to prove what caused Hardaway’s change in perspective.
That’s why the most laudable thing about Hardaway’s change isn’t that he saw that he was wrong, but that he took that realization seriously. He reflected on his beliefs, saw an opportunity, and took it. Anyone can feel sorry. It takes a much stronger person to do something with that feeling.
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