Homophobia In Sports No Longer Fair Play

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The revelation this week by the president and CEO of the Phoenix Suns that he is gay comes in the midst of what seems to be a movement in pro sports to confront homophobia head-on. Remarks that were often dismissed as the kind of trash talk that's acceptable in sports are being challenged by a few of the stars on the court. Host Scott Simon talks with Grant Hill of the Phoenix Suns, who has joined a campaign to fight homophobia in sports.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

The revelation this week by the president and CEO of the Phoenix Suns that he is gay comes in the midst of what might be a moment in pro sports: Homophobia is being confronted head-on. Remarks that were often dismissed as just a kind of acceptable trash-talk in sports are now being challenged by a few of the stars on court.

Last month, on the same day that Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers shouted a gay slur at a referee, Grant Hill of the Phoenix Suns was recording a public service announcement, addressing the use of anti-gay language among teens.

(Soundbite of buzzing)

Mr. GRANT HILL (Phoenix Suns): Using gay to mean dumb or stupid: not cool. Not cool. Not in my house, not anywhere. It's not creative. It's offensive to gay people. And you're better than that.

(Soundbite of buzzer)

SIMON: Grant Hill joins us from Phoenix.

Mr. Hill, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. HILL: Oh, thanks for having me.

SIMON: And why did you think this was so important to lend your voice to this issue?

Mr. HILL: It's about words. You know, the most important thing is these words have meaning. And gay is not a bad word, but if you use it, you know, in a way that promotes negativity, then it is.

SIMON: Did you get any flak for it?

Mr. HILL: Yeah, I think so. You know, I'd say you have a - you probably have really have three sort of groups of people, you know.

You know, you have those that get it and understand it and appreciate it. You probably have a group of folks who took it to heart, you know. You know what? That makes a lot of sense, you know. Maybe I wasn't quite aware. I'll be more careful in the language and the words that I use.

Ad then you have sort of, you know, I guess for lack of a better word, folks that are just going to be ignorant.

SIMON: Charles Barkley - great player, for that matter, I think a very entertaining commentator, who's not known for pulling his punches - said that he had plenty of gay teammates in the NBA, and it was no big deal. Is that the case?

Mr. HILL: I thought I heard, you know, that Charles had said, look, he probably had played with plenty of gay teammates. And, you know, I think the culture of male-dominated professional sports, that whole topic, you know, can be considered taboo. Our president, as you mentioned, Rick Welts, announced and came out last Sunday, the same day that our PSA aired for the first time. And for him, you know, I guess the pressure was such that he's been, you know, he's been hiding this for his entire life.

SIMON: Has sports reached - is sports beginning to approach a tipping point on this subject? I mean, as you note, you have what Rick Welts said, Sean Avery, the hockey player, says he's in favor of gay marriage, and Will Sheridan, who played for Villanova, says, well, I was gay when I played. I'm gay, and everyone knew it.

Mr. HILL: I don't know if it's reaching a tipping point, but I certainly think there's more discussion, there's more conversation about this subject matter than at any other time. And I think more and more, people are more comfortable with coming out and expressing themselves. But, you know, do I anticipate athletes coming out of the closet now left and right? I don't know. But I think it certainly is - you know, it's just a good start to be able to talk about it and have these discussions.

SIMON: You know, when word got out that we were going to talk to you, we have a colleague here who pointed out an interesting statistic: You are just considered the nicest guy in the world, and yet you lead the NBA on offensive fouls drawn, or taking charges, which is - it's kind of the ultimate tough guy stat. How did that happen?

Mr. HILL: I think I was brainwashed at Duke University. And if you actually were in a position to take a charge and you didn't, then you would get in trouble. So even now at the old age of 38 - which is ancient in the NBA - I'm still putting my body on the line and taking charges. And my wife is - she's like, look, you need to stop taking them. And I can't. I've been conditioned.

SIMON: I heard that you and Jalen Rose have kind of smoothed things over.

Mr. HILL: OK.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Let's explain to our listeners, our audience: Jalen Rose and the ESPN documentary about the Fab Five, University of Michigan basketball team, talked about why he didn't like Duke players. And, you know, I don't mind putting it this way: I think he used a kind of racial slur in referring to you.

Mr. HILL: Right. Well, I agree. I thought it was, you know, it was wrong. It was disgusting. But, you know, he called and apologized, and apologized to my parents. And, you know, I think it was sincere. And so I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and move on.

SIMON: Mr. Hill, we can't let you off the phone without asking who you see in the NBA Finals.

Mr. HILL: Well, in my dreams I see Phoenix, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Let me have the rare pleasure of telling Grant Hill: I think you're wrong this year.

Mr. HILL: Yeah, it could be that I guess you're right. You know, it's been an interesting playoff. Certainly, some teams that I had picked or I thought were favored to win are not in the playoffs now. You know, either one of these teams, you know, are capable of getting to the finals and/or winning. But I'm going to go and say Miami.

SIMON: Grant Hill of the Phoenix Suns, thanks so much.

Mr. HILL: All right. Thank you. I appreciate it.

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