Dennis Rodman gets it.
By “it,” of course, I mean “attention from a celebrity-worshipping culture that all too frequently accepts a provocative soundbite from a once-famous athlete as an acceptable substitute for actual expertise worth considering.”
But here’s the thing...when it comes to LGBTQ participation in professional sports, Dennis Rodman gets it. For real.
In the midst of doing a promo junket for ESPN’s new 30 for 30 documentary titled “Rodman: For Better or Worse,” the NBA’s greatest provocateur spoke about his relationship with the community to Business Insider. And as usual, his words were shocking. Only in this case, it was because of how on-point they were.
For instance, here’s Rodman on his reaction to Ryan Russell’s coming out as bisexual...
“It don’t matter if [you’re in] sports or [an] entertainer or actor or whatever in the world... Who cares? Okay? Who cares? You know, as long as he plays and performs, does it matter?”
Usually, when I say you can’t argue with Dennis Rodman, it’s because I’m following basic rules of etiquette like “Try not to debate anyone who’s close personal friends with a guy who’s got nukes.” But in this case, you legitimately can’t argue with Dennis Rodman. Because he’s right.
The Worm also addressed the topic of how many gay players are in pro sports at the moment:
“I wouldn’t be surprised, literally, I’ve said it all along, if 10 percent or 20 percent of people in the NBA, or any sports, [are] gay. I wouldn’t be surprised. It wouldn’t shock me at all. I think today, it wouldn’t shock anyone. I think that’d be more acceptable now than anything.”
I have no idea where Rodman got that estimate. There’s a decent chance he just picked 10 to 20 because he wanted the number of gay players in the NBA to match his career free throw percentage. But as we’ve learned from the testimony of players like Russell and Ryan O’Callaghan, there are many more active gay players in pro sports than most people realize. So while the math is seemingly chosen at random, Rodman has a point. Again.
It feels weird to type those words in that order.
Rodman’s comfortable but complicated relationship with the LGBTQ community dates back to the heyday of his playing career. In a 1995 Sports Illustrated profile during his tempestuous tenure with the San Antonio Spurs, Rodman appeared on the cover dressed in lingerie and spoke about his affinity for the local gay bar scene, admitting that he enjoyed hugging and kissing other men...
“I visualize being with another man. Everybody visualizes being gay — they think, should I do it or not? The reason they can’t is because they think it’s unethical. They think it’s a sin. Hell, you’re not bad if you’re gay, it doesn’t make you any less of a person.”
Keep in mind that this was the mid-90s — the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Very few in the mainstream sports world were talking like this and it won Rodman a sizable LGBTQ following. As he later revealed, “the gay community started to reach out to me and said, ‘Wow, we never knew that our community can be represented like that in sports.’”
It looks like Rodman found an interesting subgroup of gay sports fans who somehow never heard of Martina Navratilova, Greg Louganis, or Billie Jean King. But point taken.
That was the good side of Dennis Rodman. But there was also the side that exploited those good feelings for publicity. In 1996, during his career-defining tenure with the Chicago Bulls, Rodman published an autobiography called “Bad as I Wanna Be” that announced he was bisexual. After describing his feelings for men in the SI piece, such a revelation was understandable. So what did Rodman do in the wake of this apparent coming out?
That’s... not how bisexuality works. At all. You can’t claim that you’re into both genders when you make it clear that the only thing you’re attracted to is publicity.
So it’s a good idea to always assume Dennis Rodman is saying something just to get people to notice that he still, in fact, exists. But as he occasionally demonstrates when discussing LGBTQ sports figures, every so often the stars align during his attention-seeking verbal meanderings and he gets it completely right.
You can see ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary, ‘Dennis Rodman: For Better or Worse” on cable or online by clicking here.