You Can’t Be Gay in the NBA


A few weeks ago, after a victory over the Orlando Magic, Toronto Raptors teammates Reggie Evans and Leandro Barbosa held hands as they walked to the locker room. The clip landed on YouTube, and people didn’t know how to deal with it.


YouTube comments are generally the place for the lowest common denominators, and this was no exception. Barbosa is gay. Evans is gay. And you can’t be gay if you play basketball. That’s not allowed. That was the general reaction, just with more misspellings, grammar mistakes, and off-color language.

As we’ve talked about before, sports might be the least gay-friendly corner of our society. There are no openly gay players in any of America’s four major sports. In the NBA, John Amaechi came out after his playing days were over, but that’s it.

This is a league where players play in sleeveless shirts and chest bumps and butt slaps are common. But it’s also league where star players have to say “pause” whenever they mention something with the slightest hint of “gay.”

Of course, there are definitely gay players playing in the NBA right now, but they’re unlikely to come out, due to a lack of “comfortable space.” Marc Lamont Hill of the Philadelphia Daily News writes:

From my own experiences as a writer and close observer of the NBA, I could name at least five gay NBA players in the league, none of whom would be a surprise to most players. Unfortunately, the world of pro sports, which is motivated exclusively by profit, does not create comfortable space for the highly unprofitable gay athlete to exist in full public view.

Also, NBA locker rooms, like everywhere else, remain largely hostile to gay athletes. This is why gay athletes never come out of the closet while they’re still playing. It’s why former Mets catcher Mike Piazza and former Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart, who were both on the receiving end of countless rumors throughout their careers, used to hold annual press conferences announcing that they still weren’t gay.

Lamont Hill goes on to talk about how we still feel the need to define masculinity within such a small space: “violence, coldness, misogyny and hypersexuality.” Realizing that there are gay players in the NBA—and even gay gangster rappers—should expand our conceptions of masculinity, but progress has been slow:

Unfortunately, this kind of reimagining is difficult, given our society’s deeply entrenched beliefs about masculinity. From a very early age, we create a very rigid script for how males can navigate the world. We paint our sons’ rooms blue, refuse to let them play with dolls (unless we put guns in their hands and call them “action figures”) and discourage them from crying, all in an attempt to prepare them for their lives as “real men.”

In truth, we produce a species of humans who too often see violence, coldness, misogyny and hypersexuality as the only models of existence.

We can only guess how many more poets, painters, or peacemakers the world could produce if men weren’t constantly forced to adhere to the unwritten but very clear rules of masculinity.

Also, by policing the boundaries of masculinity, society denies men the tools to deal with their feelings in a healthy way. As a result, far too many men are unable to develop strong friendships, positively resolve conflicts or effectively deal with any emotion other than anger.

That’s spot on. The thing is, masculinity isn’t something to be defined. It’s only defined in that each man is able to define it for himself, in his own way. There’s no wrong or right way to be a man. Unfortunately, we’re still a ways away from guys on YouTube or in NBA locker rooms realizing that.

About Ryan O'Hanlon

Ryan O'Hanlon is the managing editor of the Good Men Project. He used to play soccer and go to college. He's still trying to get over it. You can follow him on Twitter @rwohan.


  1. Max Ornstein says:

    The game’s over, the job’s done and done well—they won that game—unless you want to count saying “both teams played hard” a few times as part of the job description. And even if you do, there’s no way to derive softness from a postgame interview, and I don’t think you need hyper-focus to do it. Unless your name is DeMarcus Cousins.

    Aside from the significance that we, culturally, put onto the hand-holding (that is, in America, if two guys hold hands, it’s going to be read as a statement about sexuality), I don’t think there’s much difference than if they walked off arms around each others shoulders, or chest bumping their way through the hallway to the locker room in celebration. Players show emotion just like anyone does when they accomplish a goal.

    Personally, I read it as a botched attempt/display at camaraderie (attempt/display because I’m not inside Reggie Evans’ head and don’t know how he received it) due to a cultural disconnect in Leandro Barbosa and in us.

    We forget Leandro Barbosa is from Brazil, a place where it’s more normal for two heterosexual guys to hold hands because it’s a more affectionate culture than ours is as a whole. In my opinion, it’s a case of an action in one culture meaning something entirely different in a second culture, and showing that second culture’s ignorance as a result. Likewise, Leandro might have forgotten that he’s in a league full of “pausers” and didn’t realize how his actions would be received. Unlike us, and the people fueling the debate, I doubt he cared very much. He and Reggie Evans still got that W.

    According to Wikipedia’s article on Cheek Kissing, “In the Southern Cone countries of Chile, Argentina and Uruguay it is common (almost standard) between male friends to kiss “a la italiana”, i.e. football players kiss each other to congratulate or to greet.” Imagine the ****storm if Peyton Manning and Tom Brady cheek kissed after a game.

  2. The “gayness” of this doesn’t upset me. I know gay people, I love gay people and I’m glad (at least in Mass.) they have equal rights in the form of legal marriage.

    What gets me is the softness of it all.

    Players holding hands?? It’s just weird. To be fair, so are the ass-slaps (I never understood them and didn’t like being on the receiving end, because dammit some guys hit HARD). But I’d have the same reaction if I saw a player—either during or after the game—walking down the tunnel with their wives or girlfriends being all snuggly. It’s not the right time. You either need to get your head into the game or take care of all the postgame activities, and then feel free to do whatever you want.

    I want my players tough and hyper focused on the task at hand. I don’t want them holding hands or playing grab-ass in the tunnel. That’s not homophobic or bigoted, it’s expecting highly paid professionals to do their job and stop playing around like weirdos.

    • I know some gay people I like but it isn’t because thy are gay but because they treat me right. It’s like I like a lot of peole who are Christians not because they are Christians but because the are good people. Personally I am an atheist and I treat people right. However there ar plenty of Christians who avoid me not because I am a good person but because I am an atheist. Oh well, It’s their loss.

  3. I would not advise anyone to tell Reggie Evans he is gay to his face for he would crush you like a cockroach.


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