Jason Whitlock had Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis on his podcast this week, and after Davis offered his take on the Selena Roberts/Duke Lacrosse case (“there’s no mea culpa there …”), Davis jogged my memory with this one: All those ‘Christean Laettner is gay’ rumors? The first journalist to write about the “rumors” was Sports Illustrated’s Curry Kirkpatrick in this November 25, 1991 profile of the Blue Devils’ star:
Being a jerk was one thing. Soon, the rumor began spreading on campus that Laettner was gay. It started when, as some vaguely weird joke designed to shock a few football players, Laettner walked around holding hands with a fellow freshman. “Then it spread because of jealousy,” Laettner says. “Look, it made me seem mysterious, and I don’t mind that. It made people think twice about me, and I don’t mind that either.
“The stereotype of a bigtime athlete is that he’s supposed to be able to get a date with anyone he wants and that he ‘gets around’ [heterosexually]. It’s stupid. I wasn’t doing any of that. I had male friends. I wasn’t seen with any females. I had bigger and better things to do. So now it’s I ‘get around’ and I’m gay. It’s so hypocritical. Now Brian and I are supposed to be lovers. So we joke around with it.”
Kirkpatrick wraps the rumors around a (funny?) quote Laettner gave the Raleigh News & Observer, and then tosses in quotes from Coach K, Laettner’s mom and teammate Brian Davis.
I’m a little surprised the preeminent sports publication in the country at the time worked the gay rumors into the story, even though Kirkpatrick was quick to debunk them. Can you imagine if SI tried to run something like that now? The social media backlash would be extraordinary, and in the 24/7 news cycle, it’d get pickup everywhere, and it’d be all anyone asked said athlete about. If fans were relentless toward Laettner in 1991 (as Seth Davis notes below) because of this article, you can only imagine how ruthless they’d be in 2011.
Seth Davis, who admitted Laettner was an egotistical prick around campus (they were in the same dorm freshman year, and here’s a Davis quote from the podcast: “in a lot of ways, he was not a likable guy … the guys who liked him least were the ones who played with him”), still seems a bit jammed up about the way Kirkpatrick (a UNC grad) handled it, and doesn’t recall the rumors around campus:
Curry Kirkpatrick wrote that there were rumors around campus that Christaen Laettner was gay … all that year, he was the subject of homophobic taunts and signs … there’s some ugly stuff that happened as a result of that … there was never a single rumor that Christean Laettner was gay … [you never heard a single person say] ‘oh, i saw him at a gay bar,’ literally nothing … the whole thing was completely manufactured …
Let’s file this one under Sports Illustrated on Sports Illustrated crime.