“Finally, last question, how do you feel about a gay teammate?” That was Dan LeBatard’s question that concluded LeBastard’s 790 The Ticket radio interview with former NBA star Tim Hardaway while Hardaway was in Las Vegas puttin’ in work, ironically, for the NBA. Now, “South Park Tim-uh,” is a Texas fella with probably a little more than a little Garrison Hearst – “I don’t want no faggots on my team” – graham cracker in him, said what pretty much every country fella would’a said:
“Whoooo! Uhhhh, first of all, I wouldn’t want him on my team and ummmm, second of all, if he was on my team I would, you know, really distance myself from him ’cause uh, uh, I don’t think that’s right and you know I-I-I, it’s it’s it’s, I don’t think, ummm, y’know, he shouldn’t be in the locker room while we in the locker room and it’s just a whole lotta other things….”
And for me, it all suddenly made sense. In a span of a two minute question and answer, all of ESPN’s hard marketing work for John Ameachi’s “tell-it-all from the gay side” book, “Man in the Middle” (middle of….. what?) finally paid off.
ESPN publicists had to be behind the “leaked” information that a gay former NBA player was coming out in a book available for sale on that holiday made by the Hallmark Greeting Card Company, Valentine’s Day. ESPN was behind the pumping up of the topic of gay athletes in locker rooms; every on-air talent was asked to give their “expert” opinion on the matter. The only person I didn’t hear from was Peter Gammons, probably because he was too busy with one of his vintage Les Pauls writing his rock opera answer – finally – to the 1972 Who album, “Tommy” (was the original title, “Tim-uh”? “).
The only ESPN columnists who failed to chime in on the gay athlete matter were Scoop Jackson and Bill Simmons; I heard Jackson was reading Tim McVeigh’s private notes and was buying up all the cow manure in Texas to configure a fertilizer bomb to blow up the Internet in a last-ditch effort to remove bad press about him from the tubes that pass information from computer to computer and I heard Simmons was too busy counting his money, errrr, trying to come up with a new Yankees joke for spring training.
Once South Park Tim-uh uttered the unconscionable, out the window and out of view flew incendiary articles on Amaechi and homosexuality from ESPN.com Page 2 writers Chris Broussard (whose true impact on sports journalism can be elucidated by this: at this moment Broussard is providing his expert analysis – seriously – of the Dick Bavetta-Charles Barkley pre-NBA All-Star game race on the Mike and Mike morning radio show) and LZ Granderson – those bastions of all that is black culture. Out the window went all previous trite, pollyanna, milquetoast statements from all the alleged ESPN on-air talent.
And in flew Texas Tim-uh (he’s actually from Chicago) into his present 15 minutes of infamy.
I was one of the misguided people who initially thought LeBatard was one of the good-guy journalists; one of the few who look at both sides of a sports issue and are willing to fly in the face of popular opinion and defend athletes, and rip management, and a pliant sporting press. But as I witnessed the Amaechi events unfold, questions about LeBatard’s true intentions arose. In a conversation late last evening with the brilliant Michael Tillery – dude’s journalism fingerprints are everywhere, but somehow he’s nearly unknown – my suspicions of LeBastard were confirmed. Tillery sent me the following from an interview he performed with the legendary Miami rapper and former integral part of the Miami Hurricane’s football success, Luther Campbell (2 Live Crew):
Tillery: How’s the University of Miami looking this year? What’s your affiliation with that top ten program?
LC: These days I have absolutely no affiliation. After all the championships we won, there started to be a lot of jealous writers. They wanted to know why Luther Campbell is on the sidelines. Why I was talking to kids. They came up with their own reasons. Saying that I was paying people. All of that stuff was lies. I kind of disassociated myself from the university.
You had writers like Dan LeBatard (Miami Herald, ESPN). Through his lies about me paying the players, he became a big sports writer. He was a regular beat writer. When he broke the story about me after doing all kinds of so-called investigating it made him a hero. A lot of writers across the country depend on stories like this to elevate themselves in the field. In the process they ruin a lot of innocent folk’s lives. That ain’t right.
Tillery intimated that Campbell had a whole lot more to say about the LeBastard incident, but he respected Luther’s want to keep the information private; I can only imagine.
So that’s how LeBastard, the son of exiled, neoconservative, rabid anti-Castro Cubans, forced his way into the public’s eye – off the backs of Luther Campbell and Miami Hurricane (read, black) football players. For me, that tidbit sealed the LeBatard deal. Dan LeBastard can pontificate all he wants. He can wail until the moon, or his face, turns blue that athletes and coaches get raw deals from the press; act the part of jock-friendly reporter if he wants.
What is painfully obvious, other than Hardaway’s statements, is that I don’t believe Tim even knew about the Amaechi book. Hardaway, like many, many athletes do not, contrary to popular belief, keep up with current sports or news affairs. They’re way too busy finding ways to maintain the public relevancy they enjoyed as professional athletes.
NBA players don’t give a Dan LeBastard about the news of Amaechi “coming out.” I’m willing to wager anything that if you asked 25 NBA players from the Western Conference which teams at this moment occupied the final three playoff positions in the Eastern Conference barely five would know the answer, and vice versa; maybe not that many. You think it’s sad that a vast majority of college students can’t name the present U.S. Cabinet members? Ask professional athletes if you really want to cry. The sole concerns of the NBA players, past and present in Las Vegas were, what’s in my goody bag, who’s throwing the dopest parties, where is everybody gambling, and where can I meet my favorite non-athlete entertainer. That’s it, that’s all, no more, no less.
If you go back and listen again to the LeBatard’s Hardaway interview, think about the phrasing of LeBastard’s question: he didn’t preface the question with, “So Tim, have you been keeping up with all the press about John Amaechi revealing that he’s gay?” He didn’t even say, “Tim, John Amaechi’s book, “Man in the Middle” was just released and in it he tells the world that he is gay. How would you have felt if you knew you were playing with a gay teammate?” LeBatard simply asked, “How do you feel about a gay teammate?” There was no reference point for Hardaway and I firmly believe that LeBatard knew he was about to get the answer he so sought. Remember, Hardaway, at the time of the interview, was in Las Vegas representing the NBA. Does anyone believe that if he knew of the ESPN-generated publicity surrounding Amaechi’s book that he would have answered LeBatard’s question the same way?
The lack of context for the “gay teammate” question makes LeBatard complicit in setting up Tim Hardaway for ESPN and for the furtherance of his own career. It makes ESPN complicit in pressing ethical boundaries to ensure sales of an ESPN-published book. It makes all black people, as extensions of Hardaway’s bias, open to undue questions of prejudice, bigotry, and yes, racism, by a parasitical press and an unthinking public.
Finally, it makes Dan LeBatard, like far too many others in his field – another flimsy, go with the prevailing breeze, screw you in a heartbeat, sports journalist. And the primary name – and face – in a cautionary tale for all sports figures.
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