- - Monday, December 23, 2019

On Thanksgiving, actress Gabrielle Union shared a family photo with a message of “praise, gratitude and thankfulness” to her 14.6 million Instagram followers. The picture featured Union and her husband, former NBA star Dwyane Wade, along with two of their children.

What should’ve been a sweet and simple post was neither for Internet critics disturbed by Wade’s 12-year-old son, Zion, who appeared to sport long white fingernails and wear a crop top.

“I’ve seen some post-Thanksgiving hate on social about my family photo,” Wade tweeted to is 8.4 million followers. “Stupidity his part of this world we live in — so I get it.”

Wade, a three-time NBA titlist, is a lock for enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame one day. But for now, he’s another kind of champion in a different arena, proving a blueprint for athletes, leagues, fans and everyone else in responding to LGBTQ issues.

Judging from the outside, Zion and another of Wade’s sons — Zaire — are polar opposites. The latter plays with one of LeBron James’ sons on a nationally-ranked high school basketball team. But Zion has never exhibited what’s considered typical male behavior.

“I had to look myself in the mirror when (Zion) at the time was 3 years old,” Wade said on the “All The Smoke” podcast last week. “Me and my wife started having conversations about us noticing that he wasn’t on the boy vibe that Zaire was on.”

That vibe arguably resonates loudest in sports.

Consciously or not, boys are taught to be tough and strong, and the sole emotion that’s okay to display is anger. They’re taught that weakness is a character flaw associated with punks and sissies. They’re taught that crying is for girls … and girls generally are only good for one thing.

These lessons have been passed down, often subconsciously, by coaches, officials, fathers, and other male authority figures, ingrained from generation to generation. They represent the default position on boys and girls and what’s appropriate/inappropriate for each.

Wade apparently was no different than many of us in that regard, until the issue hit home. Reality challenged his theoretical beliefs and left him with an enhanced philosophy that we’re wise to consider.

“I’ve watched my son from Day 1, become into who she now eventually has come into,” he said on the podcast. “For me, it’s all about, nothing changes with my love. Nothing changes with my responsibilities. Only thing I got to do now is get smarter and educate myself more. And that’s my job.”

I don’t have any sons, let alone a son who prefers feminine pronouns when being addressed. But it would be a shame to let my offspring’s sexual orientation harden my heart.

Likewise, it’s disgraceful when sports — among society’s most visible and influential platforms for defining masculinity — serves as a bastion for discriminatory views toward the LGBTQ community. Especially the “locker room humor” that too often forgives “boys-will-be-boys” attitudes and undesirable subsequent consequences.

Perhaps only a few in sports would openly advocate mocking, shaming, or otherwise abusing individuals due to their sexual orientation. The leagues certainly have been smart enough to go in the opposite direction. Former NBA players like Grant Hill and Jared Dudley have filmed PSAs that condemn the bullying of gay teens, and former NHL player Sean Avery once appeared in a video ad that supported gay marriage.

But there’s a reason no male athlete in major team sports has ever “come out” while active. The fear of reprisal and the perceived lack of acceptance is too strong.

Too many so-called “believers” would ostracize a gay player while belittling, disparaging, and criticizing him. They’d defend their stance on religious grounds, yet continue being humane toward a straight player who breaches the religion through fornication and/or adultery.

Based on anecdotal evidence, more than a few hardcore parents have shunned children who turned out to be LGBTQ. And male athletes in major team sports have no safe harbor. We can imagine the ugly reception Zion would receive if he also was a burgeoning hoops star like his brother Zaire.

From Wade’s proper perspective as a loving parent, though, the boys should be treated the same whether they play ball or perform ballet.

“All these people that’s out there saying those [hateful] things, look at yourself,” Wade said. “Understand that you’re the one that’s got the issues. You’re the one that’s got the problems. It’s not the kids.”

He said Union gave him different lenses to look through, which changed his whole perspective on LGBTQ issues.

If sports emphatically and continuously promotes the same view, our society as a whole would be better off.

⦁ Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

• Deron Snyder can be reached at deronsnyder@gmail.com.

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