Network stoops low to raise profits

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

It’s been a few weeks since former NBA player John Amaechi announced he was gay, and I’ve stood on the sidelines until today.

Some call his admission courageous, and others call it a money grab. I’ll call it a post-career statement from a below-average NBA player, and a story that stays alive because there’s a financial stake in keeping it alive.

I didn’t know about Amaechi being gay until I saw something about it on ESPN’s SportsCenter. I read about it again when ESPN.com columnist Marc Stein said it was all the league was talking about, even though half of the people Stein interviewed said it was no big deal.

I heard about it again when another former NBA player, Tim Hardaway, said he hated gays on Dan LeBatard’s ESPN Radio program. That prompted Amaechi’s response on Mike Greenberg’s ESPN Radio show.

If I want to read more about it, I can buy Amaechi’s book “Man in the Middle.” In only one of the aforementioned incidents (Greenberg’s show) did I notice anybody disclose ESPN as the publisher of Amaechi’s book.

Through it all, Amaechi’s taken the high road. He didn’t stoop to Hardaway’s level by saying he hated homophobes, but identified Hardaway’s view as a reason many people don’t reveal their sexual preferences.

Amaechi’s message is great, and I don’t mind echoing the message. However, it means less coming from a network that increases profit margins for itself and parent company Disney at the expense of responsible news gathering.

This is the same network that interviewed NBA All-Star LeBron James about the 1966 Texas Western basketball team portrayed in the Disney-produced film “Glory Road.” I’m guessing James, born in 1984, was brought on to give the movie exposure, not because he had some interesting viewpoint on race relations 18 years before his birth.

The influence of ESPN doesn’t make Amaechi a big story to me, because sexual or religious preferences don’t fit in a box score or a paycheck. I never cared about San Francisco quarterback Steve Young being a Mormon, because it didn’t stop him from winning a Super Bowl. Likewise, I don’t care about Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank being gay or Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison being a Muslim, because they swore they would uphold the Constitution just like every other member of Congress.

I judge entertainers and elected officials on performance, and quality and quantity of work trump sexual and religious preferences. That’s why Ellen Degeneres is hosting the Oscars on Sunday. It’s because of Degeneres’ talent and work ethic that after she came out in 1997, she got a sitcom on CBS, two HBO specials, seven movie roles, an American Express endorsement deal, two runs as host of the Emmy Awards, a book deal, and a talk show that has won 15 Emmy Awards. She’s successful because she compares to the also-successful Jerry Seinfeld.

As for Amaechi? I went to basketballreference.com and checked out his career numbers (6.2 points, 2.6 rebounds per game). Statistically, he compared to NBA journeyman Ike Austin.

If I use religion or sexual preference to put Ellison, Young, Degeneres, Frank and Amaechi on a different pedestal than their counterparts, I’m saying it’s OK to set double standards. It’s the same logic ESPN is using to profit on Amaechi’s story, and it’s the definition of intolerance.

In fairness, I promise if ESPN should ever publish a book by Austin, I won’t buy that either.

Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. He can be reached at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by e-mail:
kevin_wilson@link.freedom.com