For Sam, it goes beyond tolerance

STEVE BUFFERY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:29 AM ET

Sam Mitchell once jumped into the debate about women sportswriters in male locker rooms.

He didn't have a problem with it, but wanted to know if it was okay for male reporters to go into female locker rooms. When told that that was verboten, Mitchell suggested that there was a double-standard involved. He then went into a song and dance about how, if he was a male reporter in a female locker room, he would conduct his interviews lying on the ground.

Politically correct? No. But the man was having some fun, and all of the journalists on hand, including at least one woman, thought it was funny, even the scribes from the local left-leaning sheet with no sense of humour when it comes to those kinds of things.

It's not unusual for the head coach of the Raptors to speak his mind on hot-button issues that have nothing really to do with the day-to-day operations of his team.

Just the other day, he spoke passionately about how the flying of the Confederate flag, particularly in the south, sends the wrong message to black people.

He is a public figure who believes it is important for those in the spotlight to speak their mind because they are in the best position to generate positive change.

So it was really no great surprise yesterday that he was willing to comment on former NBAer John Amaechi admitting that he is gay, the first pro basketballer to do so.

Rarely do pro athletes come out of the closet, so to speak. The perception is that in the macho world of pro sport they would be shunned and/or ridiculed. Amaechi old ESPN's Outside the Lines that it is a "terrifying" prospect for active players to admit to being gay, adding he knows of some active gay players in the NBA.

"There are people for whom their entire world is based around this idea that people will look at them and when they look at them, they are NBA superstars, NBA players. And any change to that would be psychologically devastating, emotionally devastating, financially devastating," he said.

Mitchell understands those concerns, calling locker rooms "tough" environments. But he finds it sad that people are still shunned because of their sexual orientation. He hopes his players would follow his example by judging people on their words and actions and not on things beyond their control.

"It shouldn't be about tolerance," he said. "It should be about respect. People should treat people as human beings. I wouldn't use the word tolerance. Are people supposed to tolerate me because I'm black? Or are they supposed to treat me with respect because I'm a human being?

"I grew up in an area of this country (Georgia) where people didn't like you because of the color of your skin," he said. "I can't change the colour of my skin any more than someone else can change who or what they are."

The worse thing, Mitchell has said, is to turn a blind eye to blights such as racism and homophobia. That's why he isn't reluctant to speak out, and he often uses humour to make his point, as when he jokingly accused a Toronto reporter last season of being in the Ku Klux Klan, after a website affiliated with the reporter's newspaper ran an insensitive cutline under a photograph of two of his players.

He was angry, but instead of snubbing the reporter or yelling and screaming, he attempted to get his point across by making a joke. When the reporter subsequently asked a question, Mitchell put his hands on a wall and begged the reporter not to whip the answer out of him.

Nothing politically correct about that, either. But the point was made, and there weren't any hard feelings.

"I just go back to the Bible," he said. "Treat everyone with the respect and compassion you would want yourself. Don't judge unless you are willing to be judged."


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