I don’t have a lot of heroes but Bill Russell might qualify. He’s not only one of the greatest basketball players ever, he’s also a man who showed tremendous courage and integrity in dealing with racial backlash in Boston, at the time one of the more racist cities in the country. And he says that the battles of gay athletes today mirror his experiences:
NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell said Wednesday that gay athletes’ current fight for equality and acceptance reminds him of some of the same struggles black athletes faced in the 1960s.
Russell, who won 11 NBA championships with the Boston Celtics, said talk about whether gay athletes can be good teammates or if they might disrupt locker rooms are the same questions black athletes heard years ago, when colleges and professional leagues were struggling with the concept of integration.
“It seems to me, a lot of questions about gay athletes, were the same questions they used to ask about us,” Russell said during a panel discussion at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, which is hosting a summit celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.Russell said he would have only one question about a gay teammate: Can he play?
I recently watched the movie ’42’ about the great Jackie Robinson and it’s really shocking now to see how he was mistreated and abused by racist teammates, journalists and opposing players. I think we will look back on today and think the same thing about the treatment of gay athletes.