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Gay on the Court

(This story was published in 2004).

No one ever accused most college students of being the best and the brightest. I remember a bumper sticker from my days at Penn State directed to archrival Pittsburgh that read: "I is a graduate of Pitt." So it's not too surprising that college basketball fans and players would resort to antigay taunts to try and demean an opponent. We had two examples in the past week.

North Carolina state guard Scooter Sherrill's apologized for a remark he made about J.J. Redick (pictured) of Duke. Sherrill was asked why opposing fans seem to love to target Redick. Sherrill said Redick "has a little bit of cockiness to him" and noted that Redick holds his hand in the follow-through position after making a shot, while dropping back on defense, AP said. "You see him hit a 3, and he's running down the court hollering. He's got his hand up like he's gay or something."

When Sherrill made the remarks, laughing, an N.C..State media rep asked the reporters to keep the comment private, but Sherrill didn't seem to mind. When a reporter suggested that Sherrill's comment might provide bulletin board material for Redick, he said, "Put it out ... put it out. I hope I can get in his head some. That's what I'm trying to do," the Durham (N.C.) Herald-Sunreported.

Sherill then issued the standard “non-apology apology” through athletic director Lee Fowler, who called the player's comments "uncharacteristic and unfortunate:" "Coach [Herb] Sendek has met with Scooter about his comments, and Scooter regrets what he said and wishes to apologize to anyone who was offended," Fowler said.

Redick seemed to take it in stride. "It's just the nature of sports," Redick told the Herald-Sun. "Not just with me but with anybody -- they're going to try to find ways to get an edge. For instance, this year when we played Georgia Tech, I'm not saying [B.J.] Elder was trying to start a fight, but he was definitely trying to get in my head. Unfortunately, I reacted. That stuff just happens in sports. ? I've heard a lot, and I've seen a lot."

Redick made his case on court during Duke’s 78-74 loss to N.C. State on Sunday. He scored a game-high 28 points with Sherrill (11 points) guarding him. Wrote Outsports reader Joel Brown: "I don't understand how a college-educated student could honestly think that using the term 'gay' in a pejorative sense would not offend anyone. Perhaps I give people too much credit? For one day (and one day only), I was the biggest Duke fan one could be. And true to form, Mr. Reddick scorched Sherill for 28 points in a losing effort. Maybe Sherill should add some ‘gayness’ to his game?"

Another incident occurred during Sunday’s Nebraska-Kansas game, and prompted Darryl Ewing of Austin, Texas, to write ABC Sports.

"I am writing to express disappointment over today's nationally televised basketball game between Kansas and Nebraska universities, and ABC Sports' decision during the broadcast to focus its cameras on a diversity insensitive sign held by a Nebraska fan.

About nine minutes into the first half of the game, ABC Sports cut to the stands to show a Nebraska fan (which may have been a student) holding a sign reading "Rock Chalk, GAYhawk!" -- an obvious homophobic reference to KU's traditional "Rock Chalk Jayhawk" chant. As an African American, I would not expect ABC Sports to focus on a student holding a racially insensitive sign, such as "Niggers Go Home!" Similarly, I would not expect ABC Sports to insult hundreds of gay and lesbian viewers by focusing its cameras on a sign obviously meant as an insult to gays and lesbians.

I'm not sure if I can expect much sensitivity from a college student, who hoisted a sign without fully exploring its impact. I do, however, expect much more from ABC Sports and your journalists to make the right decisions about diversity insensitive content. Your folks missed the mark on today's broadcast. "

Neither incident rises to the level of major homophobia--more like offsides instead of roughing the quarterback--but does speak to the fact that labeling someone as gay is still the epithet of choice in sports.

We received an e-mail from a North Carolina State student who defended Sherrill and thought readers would appreciate his point of view:

I am writing in response to the article you wrote called "Gay on the Court." What Scooter Sherrill said was unfortunate and not a very politically correct thing to do. However, he met absolutely no will ill by it and was even chuckling as he was saying it. As a senior at North Carolina State University, I have heard and seen a lot from fans and players both in Raleigh and at other ACC schools and do not condone any of it.

However, the hollow apology that Sherrill made through the AD Lee Fowler was necessary and proper. What some people do not realize is that after the game and celebration Sherrill actively sought out Gary Hahn (the voice of the WolfPack on the local affiliates that carry the game) to publicly apologize on his own. He admitted what he did, albeit harmless, was not something he was proud of and something he wished he would have never said.

To compare this to the John Rocker incident or the University of Maryland student body chanting at Redick is not only unfair, but wrong. I am very proud that Scooter Sherrill is part of our student body and has the humility to admit that he was wrong by going above and beyone the standard 'non-apology apology.' I am not really sure why I felt the need to write this e-mail but out of respect for my school and Duke University. Thanks for your time.