02-19-2017  7:58 pm      •     

Because of two recent acts — one of courage, the other of hate — the National Basketball Association has an historic opportunity to combat AIDS in the Black community.
Earlier this month, retired NBA player John Amaechi took a courageous step, unveiling in his memoir that he is a gay man. The announcement, a simple statement of Amaechi's truth, was sadly historic: It made him the first National Basketball Association player to publicly state he is not heterosexual. By standing up and telling the truth about who he is, Amaechi also stood up for a healthy Black America. He struck a blow against the stigma and shame that keeps too many in our community – gay, straight and anything in between – from talking openly about their sexuality and their sexual health.
Silence, as the old saw goes, equals death. And a world in which any part of our community can't speak honestly about his or her sexuality is one in which all of our sexual health is put in danger. With more than half of all new HIV infections occurring among African Americans, we can no longer afford sexual silences of any sort.
Most NBA players responded to Amaechi's statement with heartening affirmation, and he has characterized the response he's received in general as "overwhelmingly positive." That positive response is extremely important, given how desperately Black America now needs to come together to protect itself from the devastation of HIV/AIDS. 
As Julian Bond, the chairman of the board of the NAACP, said in a recent interview, "Homophobia is one of the major obstacles to Black America coming to grips with this disease [AIDS] in the ways that we should." Last summer, the NAACP boldly positioned itself to be among the leaders in our community's new movement against this epidemic. 
In July, an unprecedented coalition of Black leaders and organizations convened at the global AIDS conference in Toronto and pledged themselves to a "Marshall Plan" to end AIDS — and they counted striking down the deadly stigma surrounding sexuality among the top items on their to-do list.
Sadly, some in our community still haven't gotten the memo, and former Miami Heat star Tim Hardaway appears to be among those left out of the know. In a Valentine's Day radio appearance, he responded to a question about Amaechi's laudable honesty with his own shameful vitriol. "I hate gay people," Hardaway boasted. "I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States."
The tragedy of Hardaway's statement is that, at a time when many of our leaders are trying to mobilize our community to fight a deadly killer, his outburst drags us backward into a retrograde discussion.
I'm glad the NBA immediately condemned the tirade and banished Hardaway from its All-Star activities in Las Vegas. That swift action was enough to get the five-time All Star's attention, apparently, and Hardaway has since apologized for his remarks.
But the NBA has an opportunity and a responsibility to not only use this occasion to undue the damage done by Hardaway, but to join the growing movement to stop AIDS in Black America. It can sponsor free HIV testing at its games, for instance, or it can mobilize its star talent for public education campaigns. The league's potential to change the course of the epidemic is massive.
The AIDS epidemic in America is a story of a failure to lead. But Amaechi's courage and Hardaway's outburst has handed NBA Commissioner David Stern and NBA Players Association President Antonio Davis a chance to demonstrate the opposite: a willingness to lead on this issue, and to save lives. We call on them to do so.

Phill Wilson is CEO and founder of the Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. 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Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. 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