Bob Huggins’ homophobic comments this week weren’t just bad.
They weren’t just really bad.
They were the worst we’ve heard in American sports since NBA great Tim Hardaway told Dan Le Bartard “I hate gay people” in 2007.
In case you haven’t heard, the Hall of Fame coach of the West Virginia men’s basketball team called fans of Xavier “f*gs” in what was, until then, a light-hearted interview with Bill Cunningham, radio host at Cincinnati’s WLW.
We’ve seen and heard people drop slurs like that in sports many times, often in the heat of a game or caught on a hot mic. It’s usually a quick burst that creeps into the public sphere, and we’re left wondering if that was just a one-off.
Huggins didn’t stop with the first slur. He paused and doubled down, this time calling Xavier fans “Catholic f*gs.”
Not to outdo himself, he went back in a third time, making a crack about transgender people not having penises, or some such nonsense (the whole part of the conversation revolved around Huggins’ claims about fans throwing rubber penises onto a basketball court).
His non-apology — refusing to mention the LGBTQ community and call out homophobia specifically — was the cherry on top of an unfolding disaster.
No, Huggins did not — like Hardaway — say he hates gay people. It’s an important distinction between the two.
What did he say very clearly? Somewhere in Huggins’ mind, the way you most effectively attack people in your crosshairs is to call them gay slurs.
We’re left wondering how often he uses the slur in his private life, or around his team.
I feel for any LGBTQ people working in and around the Mountaineers athletic department. This has to be really tough to deal with.
One of the craziest parts about this episode is that Huggines knows the effects that using this gay slur can have on someone’s reputation and career. He personally knows Thom Brennaman — who once used a gay slur on a hot mic — having coached in Cincinnati for many years. Huggins has heard Brennaman talk to his own team about the disaster of using this language. He watched as Brennaman’s career came to an abrupt end.
And what Huggins said was about 27 times worse than Brennaman’s hot-mic moment.
I’m often the voice in the LGBTQ community asking people to take a pause before firing people for their comments. With people like Brennaman and UC-Irvine basketball coach Russell Turner, I’ve publicly asked they keep their jobs. People make mistakes, slip up, say stupid or hurtful things. Lord knows I have.
This one is different.
It’s hard to figure out what kind of “sensitivity training” that will teach Huggins something he didn’t already know. I love a good redemption story, and maybe Huggins will turn into that.
Yet the repeated comments on the radio — when he already knew what he was saying was hugely problematic — are literally impossible to defend or even explain away.
The timing also couldn’t be worse for Huggins, as the LGBTQ community — and even the existence of Pride — is being criticized and threatened by many, including people in the sports world.
You won’t find me calling for Huggins to be fired.
But you also won’t see me hoping he keeps his job.
We’ve seen homophobia publicly uttered many times in sports, even recently:
- NBA player Anthony Edwards with a post attacking “queer” men
- Nets player Cam Thomas said “no homo” in an interview
- MLS player Cucho Hernandez called an opponent a gay slur
- Former Raiders coach Jon Gruden called the NFL commissioner a gay slur
Yet not since Hardaway’s comments — that cost him roles with various organizations including the NBA and CBA — has someone in American sports uttered homophobic comments like Huggins did.
With that said, you have to wonder how slurs compare to some of the athletes in MLB and the NHL who have recently refused to wear a rainbow jersey to simply welcome LGBTQ people to their game.
Which is more rooted in actual homophobia? Dropping an idiotic slur on the radio, or telling fans their “lifestyle” is so abhorrent they don’t deserve to be supported by the sports world?
It’s hard to lead young men when you educate them about using gay slurs and how it can be career-ending... and then do it in catastrophic fashion.