Isiah Thomas has earned his fair share of headlines in recent days for his decision to return to the New York Knicks in an unprecedented arrangement that would enable him to serve as a part-time consultant for the team while remaining the head basketball coach at Florida International University. (For what it's worth, CBSSports.com's Ken Berger writes that the deal likely won't pass muster with NBA officials because it's "probably against league rules.")
Another decision by Thomas — one made in concert with his son, Joshua Thomas — has drawn considerably less attention, and it's something of a groundbreaker, too: Thomas participated in the NOH8 Campaign, a "photographic silent protest" of California's controversial gay marriage ban.
Several other athletes have also taken part, but Thomas is believed to be the first person associated with professional basketball to become involved with the effort. On his Twitter account, Joshua Thomas wrote that his father was the first Hall of Fame athlete to stand up for NOH8. Legendary U.S. Olympic diver Greg Louganis, however, had previously been photographed. The four-time gold medalist was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1993.
The campaign was founded by photographer Adam Bouska and his partner, Jeff Parshley, in response to the November 2008 passage of Proposition 8 in California. The voter-approved ballot measure amended the state's constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage, sparking a nationwide debate that continues to rage. (A federal judge overturned the ban last Wednesday, setting the stage for a potential high-stakes Supreme Court battle.)
In the campaign, according to the NOH8 website, "Photos feature subjects with duct tape over their mouths, symbolizing their voices being silenced by Prop 8 and similar legislation around the world, with ‘NOH8' painted on one cheek in protest."
There are three images of the Thomases — one each of Isiah and Joshua alone, and one of them together — wearing duct tape over their mouths, "NOH8" painted on their cheeks. The following text accompanies the images:
We are Isiah and Joshua Thomas.
We posed for the NOH8 Campaign because we believe that all hate and discrimination is wrong. It is time for full equality and equal rights for everyone, regardless of race, sexual orientation, religion, or gender.
The Thomases are two of more than 4,500 individuals to be photographed for the campaign, according to the NOH8 website, including activists, artists, celebrities, politicians and everyday folks. Other sports-related subjects include Louganis, boxing promoter Lou DiBella, mixed martial artist Shad Smith, entertainers LaLa Vasquez (Carmelo Anthony's(notes) wife) and Khloe Kardashian (Lamar Odom's(notes) wife), "Entertainment Tonight" correspondent and former ESPN anchor Kevin Frazier and "FOX NFL Sunday" correspondent Jillian Barberie Reynolds.
Joshua Thomas took to Twitter on Monday to take ESPN to task, singling out the network for accentuating the negative when reporting on his father.
"@ESPN can bash my father about nyk. But being the first hall of fame athlete to stand up for @NOH8Campaign gets no ink," he wrote.
I haven't seen enough of ESPN's television coverage of the Isiah redux to tell you much about its tenor and virulence. But I do know that two recent ESPNNewYork.com pieces have criticized the Knicks' choice to welcome Thomas back and the potentially dangerous precedent that would be set by NBA teams employing college coaches, and that ESPN.com's College Basketball Nation blog touched on the prospective conflict of interest inherent in a coach possibly using his pro connections as an amateur recruiting tool. That said, College Basketball Nation on Monday became the first major sports media-associated outlet to report on his participation in the NOH8 Campaign.
A lot of people have strong feelings about Isiah Thomas and about the issue of same-sex marriage; we might find a variety of takes on both in the comments below this post. Irrespective of yours, credit Thomas for his willingness to use the giant platform that comes with being an athletic icon (and let's not forget that in the culture of basketball, Isiah Thomas' name will ring bells for eons) to make a public statement about a social issue that matters to him and his son — especially when said statement could well be unpopular with large swaths of the sports-following populace, and especially when the last thing he needs is something else for people to get mad at him about, considering he's already invoking ill will by the truckload. Dude's standing up. Whether or not we all dig what he's standing for, we should dig that much.
Below, the other images of the Thomases from the NOH8 Campaign.