Why Chris Broussard's Opinion Matters

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Athlete homophobia is at least something you can discuss and dissect. Sports media homophobia is just ordinary bigotry.

Classical founding dude and legend of the basketball writing game @FreeDarko tweeted that yesterday afternoon. News of Jason Collins’ Sports Illustrated feature – wherein the 12-year veteran NBA center became the first active male professional athlete to come out as gay – had just broken.

By noon, the headline was gracing major news websites in a font as bold as the man himself. By 3pm, celebration had been joined by caustic critique, and the inevitable, more high profile backlash that accompanies any cultural conversation of this stature. ESPN’s Chris Broussard appeared on Outside the Lines to give a sense for how the NBA landscape – which he’s navigated and covered and shouted about on television for years, and knows better than just about anyone – would handle this new foundational reality. In so doing, Broussard confided in a honed-in public that, while the NBA and society writ large are more than ready for such game-shaking news, he himself wasn’t.

“If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be – not just homosexuality but adultery, fornication, premarital sex between heterosexuals, whatever it may be – I believe that is walking in open rebellion to God, and to Jesus Christ. And so I would not characterize that person as a Christian.”

Naturally, the internet went apeshit. Smart people said smart things; dumb people said dumb things; smart people re-tweeted dumb people saying dumb things to show how dumb those things were; dumb people tweeted smart people saying dumb things a few hardy Twitter people dedicated themselves to retweeting #tcot types somehow trying to link Benghazi into the whole deal. What Twitter lacks in nuance, it makes up for in accuracy of temperature: you get a pretty good idea of what people are thinking and feeling, even when the why lags far behind.

It was in this context that Shoals’ tweet caught my timeline.

Athlete homophobia is at least something you can discuss and dissect. Sports media homophobia is just ordinary bigotry.

For whatever reason, I reacted to this. I don’t know Shoals personally, but I’ve enjoyed enough of his offerings in pixel and pulp to imagine that we would probably agree on, I suspect, most things. Which partly explains why I even reacted to it at all: Differing opinion elicits reaction through weight and volume; you ignore the trolls and troglodytes for as long as you can, responding only to the will-snapping straw. Anyway, it was weird to disagree with a writer and thinker I admire so much. I reacted because I never expected to.

What Shoals seemed to be saying (and if I’m wrong, by all means set this straw man alight), was this: Broussard's opinion on homosexuality doesn't matter – or matters far less than the opinions of those with whom Collins could well be sharing a locker room. It’s the difference between simple small-minded bigotry on the one hand, and a much more complex nexus of social-psychological factors on the other. He said as much in a follow-up tweet to me:

It's still about the world of sports and attitudes present in it. Media isn't part of that context in any way that matters.

This is true enough insofar as how comfortable a player feels sharing his workplace with a gay man is inherently more complex and interesting than why someone in the media is quoting the Bible; the former is just a lot less abstracted and more immediate than the latter. But each yields its own brand of bigotry. That a gay man – the one you know about – might threaten team camaraderie by ogling a straight teammate is as irrational a fear as God sending you to swampfire. Neither survives serious scrutiny. Neither should.

Categorically distinguishing between the bigotry of players and media betrays a fundamental reality of sports in the 21st century: Broussard, whatever you might think of him, is one of the most high-profile media figures in the NBA, and a celebrity in his own right. Of course what Broussard says on live television, and in response to a watershed headline, would inform the perspective of players, and shape – and maybe help to justify – how they think and feel. To what degree, it’s impossible to say. But even if the resulting influence isn’t one of shared theology, such comments – from such prominent voices – can lend moral cover where it scarce existed before. That’s why it matters, and why it’s worth not just calling it what it is, but asking why it is.

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