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SBJ/October 23 - 29, 2000/Opinion
Behind Iverson's hurtful words, an opportunity to heal
Published October 23, 2000
Come to me with faggot tendenciesYou be sleeping where the maggots be ... These lines leap off of Allen Iverson's new rap song, "40 Bars."
It is only part of the music that promises to fan the flames of controversy that have always surrounded the over-the-edge Iverson since his days as a high school star. His attitude toward women becomes apparent with
Everybody stay fly
Get money; kill and f--- bitches
I'm hitting anything
And planning on using my riches ...
Down for zero digits
I'm a giant you're a midget ...
Just as the hate spewed by Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker unleashed a national dialogue on racism, I hope Iverson's venom might open a slammed door in sport to discuss sexual preference and homophobia.
Sexual preference remains a topic that we do not want to touch in sport, as in society. Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society, which I direct, has been doing diversity management training for more than a decade. We have done it for more than 60 college athletic departments, the NBA's league office and all of Major League Soccer.
Issues of race and gender are openly discussed in those sessions because participants expect it. Five years ago, our staff had to put the issues of sexual preference on the table. Now it almost always comes up, either directly or through an anonymous written exercise. Once brought up, it usually becomes a dynamic but often uncomfortable discussion.
We almost never hear participants say they don't want to work alongside a person from a different ethnic or racial group, or a man say he doesn't want to work with a woman or vice versa. However, it is not at all uncommon for one or more people to say they do not want to work with gays or lesbians. Like Iverson, many are afraid of what they do not understand, afraid of a behavior that parents taught them was morally repugnant or that religious leaders told them is against God's will.
While violence based on racism has been on the rise for too long, the most frequent victims of hate crimes and bias incidents are gays and lesbians.
Both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Sacramento Monarchs had incidents with fans this year. Police working for the Dodgers escorted a demonstrative lesbian couple out of the park. The Dodgers later apologized and offered to bring the couple back as the team's guests.
In Sacramento, a group called the Davis Dykes bought a package of tickets to a Monarchs game during the recent WNBA season. The team offers to put the name of any community group that buys a block of 20 or more tickets on an electronic board at the Arco Arena. A salesperson told a representative of the group from Davis, Calif., that it would not be possible to put the name "Davis Dykes" in lights. Offended but willing to work out a compromise, the women from Davis offered up Davis Lesbians and Davis Rainbow Women.
The story caught up with Joe Maloof, the owner of the Monarchs and the Sacramento Kings. He and team president John Thomas took the issue on directly. Maloof personally welcomed the Davis Dykes to the game, and their name went up. Months before the incident, Thomas had scheduled the Northeastern University team to come to Sacramento to train the entire organization. We have now done that and have scheduled what we believe is the first session ever held by a sports franchise on homophobia. What happened in Sacramento had a bad beginning and what may very well be a positive ending.
The same is true of a story at the Sydney Olympics, where a married couple played against each other for the first time in the history of the Games. Denmark's Camilla Andersen had married Norway's Mia Hundvin this summer and announced that they wanted to have a child together through artificial insemination. Even in countries where sexuality is more open, that was a lot to digest for the national fans of each star. Titillating stories appeared for months in Danish and Norwegian tabloids. But in the end, Olympic coverage apparently focused more on how the competition would be affected by a married couple playing on opposing teams. It became a sports issue, not one of sexual preference.
Iverson has publicly — if lamely — apologized for his lyrics about women, gays and lesbians. "If individuals of the gay community and women of the world are offended by any of the material in my upcoming album, let the record show that I wish to extend a profound apology. If a kid thinks that I promote violence by the lyrics of my songs, I beg them not to buy it or listen to it. I want kids to dream."
I guess that is why he wrote the following as part of "40 Bars." This ends with the sound of a gun being cocked and fired.
Man enough to pull a gun
Be man enough to squeeze it ...
Now I'm reaching for heat
Leave you leakin' in the street ...
This type of murder don't need no hook
Just 40 f------ bars from the mouth of a crook ... yo
Children die each day at the hands of another child using a gun. I wonder how their parents or those of the children killed in Littleton, Colo., or Pearl, Miss., or Jonesboro, Ark., will feel about the lyrics. I especially wonder what the little boys who idolize Iverson will think about gays and lesbians, about girls and women, and about using a gun to solve their problems.
I hope that parents flood the 76ers offices with waves of concern. I recognize that other rap performers use the same language and images, but that does not make it OK for Iverson. I hope Iverson comes to understand what an influence he has on this hip-hop generation and that his apology/explanation falls short of taking his hate off the airwaves but instead might promote more malevolence for those with hate in their hearts. He can use that influence for great good.
"40 Bars" uses it with pernicious results.
Richard E. Lapchick is director of Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society.