Thank you, Kenny Smith, for being the voice of reason in the Jason Collins-Chris Broussard imbroglio.
For those keeping score at home, NBA pro Collins this week became the first active player in one of the major U.S. professional team sports to come out as gay. The reaction from many, in the sports world and in the world of politics, was supportive and positive.
But not from everyone. Basketball analyst and former New York Times writer Broussard, speaking on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" show, said: "I'm a Christian. I don't agree with homosexuality. I think it's a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is. If you're openly living in unrepentant sin ... that's walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ."
As we are fond of pronouncing -- although mostly when someone says something we agree with -- it’s a free country. And certainly I don’t question Broussard’s commitment to Christianity. But I find it particularly sad that a black man would express such sentiments, when for far too many years in this country blacks were denied basic rights based at least in part on some people’s reading of Scripture.
And that's where I applaud Smith, a former basketball player himself and host of TNT’s “Inside the NBA.” Here's what he had to say in the immediate aftermath of Broussard's comments: “As an African American, I could never, ever discredit inclusion, because that’s the one thing we always wanted.”
My colleague Matthew Fleischer caught up with Smith on Tuesday, speaking with him just before he did an interview with Collins for “Inside the NBA”:
Smith began by expressing a certain amount of sadness that a gay player in the NBA evoked such sturm und drang in the first place.
“Those things should be normal,” he said.
As a broadcaster, however -- especially in the wake of Broussard’s rant -- Smith was well aware of the significance of the moment -- and that eyes were as much on him as they were on Collins. As an African American broadcaster in particular, Smith felt he bore a particular burden to shift the narrative on Collins away from the Chris Broussards of the world.
“I take this seriously,” Smith said. “You can have your own thought process about things, but you still need to include and coexist with other people.”
Asked what the reaction to his comments was from his large network of NBA players past and present, Smith didn’t get into details, but suggested he did take some flack for his position.
“The people who find this controversial don’t understand,” he said. “As African Americans, we always have to fight for inclusion. Despite your moral background: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, it doesn’t matter.”
Indeed. The gay community has successfully turned the fight for marriage equality and the like into a civil rights struggle. Cast in those terms, Broussard’s views -- ones undoubtedly shared by a good many Americans -- are irrelevant.
Yes, people are free to worship as they see fit. But those religious beliefs must be separate from our laws.
As Smith said so simply, it’s about inclusion. Many people fought, and even died, so men like Broussard could get an education, work at a prestigious job, live where they want, even marry whom they please.
Broussard, of all people, should understand the wrong in using the Bible to deny those same rights to others.
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