(This interview originally appeared on Outsports.com in March, 2007.)
Outsports.com columnist Randy Boyd’s “list of gay ballers in the NBA” generated quite a stir when the column first appeared in 2001. It got attention again this past February when John Amaechi, one of the players on that list, went public about his homosexual orientation. Also on the list was Tim Hardaway, the former player who caused a stir of his own by saying “I hate gays.”
What does Boyd, author of the epic sports novel Walt Loves the Bearcat, know about gays in sports that the rest of us don’t? The five-time Lambda Literary Award nominee opened up about basketball, his writings, and his famous list.
Question: You wrote two columns listing 20 NBA players as “most likely to be gay.” Why?
Boyd: Right off the bat, huh? Ballin’ With Randy Boyd was the column. It was a mix of sports, humor, babe watching–typical guy stuff–from my point of view. Pure entertainment. I was young–younger–and trying to be provocative. Guess I got my wish, huh?
Q: Have you met John Amaechi? Did you know he was gay when you wrote those columns?
Boyd: John Amaechi and I have never met, though I’d like to shake his hand, congratulate him on his honesty and wish him well with the book and his life. I didn’t know he was gay until he told the world in ’07.
“I’m on this planet to tell my tale, not other people’s.”
Q: How did you choose the players on the list, in particular, Amaechi and Hardaway.
Boyd: Somebody had to be on it. Think of a comedy sketch on Saturday Night Live or MADtv. Where would those shows be without joking about people’s quirkiness, especially people in the public eye. It’s about entertainment, not news and information.
Q: Do you personally know of any professional gay athletes?
BOYD: When I was a kid, my mother used to say: “Unless you see it with your own two eyes, you don’t know what’s true.” Words that have stayed with me. Point being: I have no knowledge of who is or who isn’t homo, hetero, bi, tri, or asexual in pro sports, so please, no more emails asking to me speculate!
Q: Would you tell us if you did know of any professional gay athletes?
BOYD: Absolutely … not! I’m on this planet to tell my tale, not other people’s. That’s their decision, their movie, their life, their private life. I don’t intend on being the boogeyman in somebody else’s movie in this lifetime.
Q: What does your tale, your experience, tell you about the issue of gays in sports?
BOYD: Gays in sports is not an “issue.” It’s a fact. It’s a fact that men who have sex with other men have played sports on all levels throughout history. Every single sporting event that has ever taken place has included participants and spectators who have had sex with persons of the same gender. What is an “issue” is the fact that our society is in collective denial about the following reality: the world is full of athletes, soldiers, presidents, trash collectors, preachers, politicians, coaches, umpires, husbands, soccer dads, bachelors, homosexual men, heterosexual men, bisexual men … men … who have, in their lives, in their journey, had sexual relations with another … man. At some point. In some space and time. Be it at a drunken frat party or adult bookstore or upscale hotel or downstairs basement or … any and every place imaginable. To paraphrase: let he who has not had sexual relations with another man at some point and time in his life cast the first stone.
Q: You said something similar in February on Fox Sports Radio, which prompts me to paraphrase what Fox announcer Chris Myers asked: Even if that’s true, what does that have to do with the “idea” of gays in sports?
BOYD: The “idea” of gays in sports is not so much about gay rights, or even morality. It’s about acknowledging existing and legal behavior that ain’t going away, and dealing with that existing behavior. It’s about collectively coming up with ways to acknowledge and integrate that existing behavior into the sports world in ways that are healthy and balanced for all.“Why assume the worst in people, in athletes, in locker room scenarios?”
Q: Pardon me for asking, but doesn’t professional sports already do “sensitivity training?”
BOYD: If they do, they’re to be commended for their efforts. I’m a strong believer in dialogue, but it’s important not to simply suppress jocks who say things like “I hate gays.” Dialogue goes both ways. Constructive dialogue goes a long way toward getting to truths and a common understanding, which can lead to everybody winning. But it takes both sides—rather, all sides. It also helps to focus on appreciating our differences instead of focusing on the fear or the unknown.
Q: What kind of athlete should be the first to come out while still active? A superstar? An old vet on his way out? Will he have to be John Wayne-macho with some real thick skin? What kind of man will it take?
BOYD: It will take a true hero who decides to share his soul with his world. A man who believes his word is worth more than the words of others. A man who understands he is a special creation and a great dreamer. A man determined to maximize his God-given potential in this God-given lifetime. A man who chooses to know the truest form of love for himself, and by extension, the world around him. A man who believes in his deepest dreams. Incidentally, that’s pretty much my personal definition of a real man, as well as the kind of man I strive to be.
Q: In other words, you’re saying, to be a real man, a man’s got to face some treacherous challenges on the scale of Jackie Robinson? Or worse.
BOYD: Why dream the nightmare? Why dwell on the world’s worst fears? Why assume the worst in people, in athletes, in locker room scenarios? We’re all better off when we focus on the positive and wonderful results that might come from athletes being honest about their sexual orientation.
“Can you believe a man couldn’t be openly gay in sports back then?”
Q: Okay. Name one positive and wonderful result, if you can.
BOYD: I can do better than that. I can name several.
-Imagine your downtrodden team that hasn’t won in decades finally claiming ultimate glory when John Doe makes that spectacular catch, throw, pitch, tackle, walk-off homer, punt return for a touchdown, last second, all-net buzzer beater, wobbly field goal that goes down in history and brings all kinds of joy to your city and your heart. All because John Doe pursued sports as a kid instead of quitting out of fear of being shunned because he’s gay.
-Imagine the players in pro sports who are not performing to the best of their abilities because they’re too stressed from fear of being labeled a fag all lightening up, becoming less volatile, concentrating on their game more, becoming the great franchise player slash utility man slash go-to guy slash goalie slash defensive specialist they’re supposed to be. Imagine the lack of stress leading to better performances, which leads to more John Does creating more magical sports moments that bring all kinds of joy to your city and your heart.
-Imagine more humans the world over understanding that sexual orientation does not cause chaos and disorder, that chaos and disorder come in all shapes and sizes, hetero to homo, trash collectors to astronauts, because chaos and disorder are caused by persons, regardless of sexual orientation, whose lives are out of balance and who are missing a healthy dose of self-worth.
-Imagine more openly gay athletes resulting in more kids having positive role models and less kids trying to commit suicide out of fear they might be a fag. Or gay. Or queer. Or whatever people call the people who can’t be honest about their private lives in sports.
-Imagine more kids learning valuable life lessons through playing sports, lessons like the value of a good work ethic, the importance of sportsmanship and teamwork, all because “anybody can play sports nowadays, gays included.”
-Imagine our generation not being the generation that future generations look back on and say: Can you believe a man couldn’t be openly gay in sports back then? How primitive is that? Before that, they didn’t let blacks in. And they called themselves evolved?
-Imagine professional adult athletes growing up in the locker room and learning to treat one another as adults, not adolescents. Bigger dream: the grown-up behavior in the locker room encourages more grown-up behavior off the field, which leads to less sports page headlines dealing with spousal abuse, rape, parties gone wild and the various ugly entanglements that bring very little joy to any city or anyone’s heart.
Q: Sounds like the dreams of the quarterback and cheerleader in Walt Loves the Bearcat, your very long sports novel about the first superstar athlete to come out.
BOYD: Hey, if Harry Potter can have several thousand pages to tell his tale, why can’t a black boy write a little ditty about his version of the ultimate buddy duo? But seriously, new millennium, new dreams. I challenge everyone who reads this to dream of at least one positive outcome that might result from college and pro athletes being open and honest about their sexual orientation. And when you dream that dream, get in touch with how that dream makes you feel. If the dream makes you feel good, keep dreaming. If the dream makes you feel bad, send that dream back to the bench and come up with another one, a better dream, one that brings all kinds of joy to your city and your heart.
Q: Talk about tough assignments. Any last thoughts?
BOYD: Think of a newborn baby boy. Ultimately, you can’t control his dreams, his choices, his beliefs. You can’t control the sum total of his life experiences, nor can you control his sexual orientation or sexual experimentation. In short, you can’t live his life. What you can do is your part to create a world in which any newborn baby boy can dream of being a great athlete and grow up pursuing that dream, believing in himself and his ability to reach his potential as an athlete and a human being, knowing he has a fair shot at all life has to offer, just like any other man.