“Big, Black, And Could Be Trouble”

Former professional basketball player John Amaechi was denied entrance to a Manchester, England gay bar when the doorman determined he was “big, black, and could be trouble.”

Amaechi is himself gay.

Two members of Amaechi’s party were allowed into club Crunch before Amaechi himself was barred; after Amaechi was turned away, the doorman granted passage to “an inebriated Batman (complete with cowl) and a group of five men and women dressed as escaped convicts and absolutely blasted out of their minds[.]“

According to Amaechi:

I was told I was being barred because Crunch is a “private members bar” at first, not because I had been previously aggressive.

Only when I made it clear I knew Crunch was NOT a private bar, did the doorman tap his radio to say they had been told “I was a problem.”

I stated that I knew I was being rejected for how I looked and what they assumed about me—I said because “I am big and black,” they said ” . . . big and black and trouble.”

When my friends told the doorman that I was a Patron of Pride, and gay—he laughed and turned his back.

In a pathetic attempt at damage control, Crunch spokespeaks claimed that the bar had received a radio message that a group matching the description of Amaechi & Co. had been “argumentative and aggressive” with another venue’s door staff. This lie was demolished when personnel at the two Manchester clubs Amaechi visited before he was barred from Crunch confirmed that they were not even linked via radio with Crunch. A representative of one of the clubs, VIA, told Pink News that in his establishment, on that night, Amaechi was, “as always, very pleasant.” This man also left the following message on Facebook:

Just wanted to add a point from VIA—John and his group were in our venue and were as always polite respectful. I do not know John personally but i have a great respect for the amount he does for OUR community. I was on the nitenet system all night as well as my head doorman and i do not remember any messages that were connected to Johns party . Tony -Via

Seems clear that the Crunch bunch, like George Bush and the racists at Daily Kos, just don’t like black people.

Amaechi grew up in England, raised in Heaton Moor, Stockport by his English mother; his father was Nigerian. He played high-school and college basketball in the United States, and in 1995 Amaechi was signed, undrafted, by the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association. After two years with the Cavaliers, he played two years professionally in Europe. He returned to the US, signing with the Orlando Magic, in 1998.

Amaechi became something of a curiosity in 2000 for two reasons: first, because he scored the first NBA points of the new millennium, and second because he turned down a $17 million contract offer from the Los Angeles Lakers, deciding instead to remain with Orlando—for $600,000.

Asked (repeatedly) why, Amaechi replied that Orlando was the only NBA team that offered him a shot in 1998. “There are many people who are asked what their word is worth,” he said, “and when people ask me that, I can say, ‘at least $17 million.'”

He ended his career with the Utah Jazz, then returned to England, where he came out of retirement to represent England during the Commonwealth Games; the English team took the bronze. He then entered a career in broadcasting; he also became a motivational speaker.

In 2007 Amaechi came out as gay, on both ESPN and in a book titled Man in the Middle, which he released on Valentine’s Day. He became the first NBA player ever to admit being gay.

Amaechi explained that it was just not possible for him to do so while he was playing, and described the circumstances under which an active player could come out of the closet.

“The person who does it while he’s active is going to have to be a quality player with a long-term contract,” Amaechi said. “I left my dying mother, my home and everything I knew to pursue this highly unlikely career, and I couldn’t risk all that by coming out during it. In six years, I went from fat bookworm to the NBA.

“People are going to try to diminish this by saying, ‘He wasn’t any good. Why should I listen to him?’ But I was there, in the league. Somebody has to do this first and properly, and I’m going to attempt to do that. It’s what any principled person of conscience would do when they’re confident and ready.”

Five years before, while still playing for the Jazz, Amaechi had told Scotland on Sunday:

“If you look at our league, minorities aren’t very well represented. There’s hardly any Hispanic players, no Asian-Americans, so that there’s no openly gay players is no real surprise. It would be like an alien dropping down from space. There’d be fear, then panic: they just wouldn’t know how to handle it.”

Reaction from current and former NBA players to Amaechi’s declaration was mixed. Charles Barkley said “it shouldn’t be a big deal to anybody[;] I know I’ve played with gay players and against gay players and it just shouldn’t surprise anybody or be an issue.” Amaechi’s former teammate in Orlando, Grant Hill, expressed hope that “the fact that John has done this, maybe it will give others the comfort or confidence to come out as well.”

Representing the knuckledragging perspective was Tim Hardaway, who opined:

“First of all I wouldn’t want him on my team. Second of all, if he was on my team I would really distance myself from him because I don’t think that’s right and I don’t think he should be in the locker room when we’re in the locker room. Something has to give. If you have 12 other ball players in your locker room that’s upset and can’t concentrate and always worried about him in the locker room or on the court or whatever, it’s going to be hard for your teammates to win and accept him as a teammate.”

While Hardaway later apologized, he was nonetheless described, accurately, by prominent radio sports-talk host Ralph Barbieri of San Francisco, where Hardway was long popular as a player with the Golden State Warriors, as “a hateful bigot.”

As for the hateful bigots at Crunch, Amaechi has lodged a complaint with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Manchester city council, and the Greater Manchester Police. He also says he may sue.

“I am not,” Amaechi wrote on his blog, “a ‘newbie’ to Manchester, or the [gay] village or to thinly-veiled bigotry, and I see what happened that night.”

He adds:

PLEASE bear in mind, if you are reading this from around the world, that Manchester is a wonderful, progressive, cosmopolitan city—it has fantastic people from all walks of life and frankly, it is deserving of better bar owners and better bars, than Crunch.

I am not trying to change the world or destroy Crunch, but even petty ignorance and minor bigotry needs to be challenged.

Amaechi was inspired to come out by the gay actor Ian McKellan, who was the grand marshal of last year’s Manchester Pride parade.

McKellan, of course, is white. Amaechi is not. England, like its former colonies across the great water, has never been renowned for its great love of black people.

Sinead O’Connor once had something to say about that:

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