It is the media silence that hurts the most. Retired Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade and his wife Gabrielle Union have been loving and supportive parent to their trans teenage daughter, Zaya. They have shown the public the doting normality of caring for a trans child.
And now the Wade family feels forced to leave Florida.
The most important pro athlete in the history of Florida sports has had to move for his family’s safety because of Governor Ron DeSantis—and so far, the sports world is remaining largely quiet.
The craven, snarling DeSantis has been monomaniacal about jamming through oppressive legislation aimed at eliminating transgender people and even public conversation about their lives. Instead of addressing the crises ravaging the state, DeSantis has chosen legislative priorities that seem written by a fascist-minded podcaster. Many in Florida and beyond are being deliberately unheard by a skittish media, some of whom are complicit in this rise of anti-trans animus. These attacks—without a robust response or even a backward response from the Democratic Party—have allowed these ideas to gain a foothold. But Wade cannot and will not be silenced.
As Wade said of Florida,“I don’t live in the state. A lot of people don’t know that. I have to make decisions for my family, not just personal, individual decisions…. Yes, I had to educate myself, and yes, I had to get a better understanding. And yes, I had to lose some friends along the process, but I never wavered on loving my kids and trying to find space to get the chance to understand them.”
In a separate interview, Wade took on DeSantis, saying, “I don’t know him. But I do know men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t. I do know that when our children feel accepted…. it lowers the death rate. I’m gonna step on the side of acceptance. I’m not even going to go on the other side. I’m just focused on acceptance. Let’s make sure our kids have an opportunity to live this life that we all get to live.”
DeSantis is the leading autocrat of a revanchist movement that has pushed nearly 500 anti-trans bills through state legislatures. It is not surprising that the dangerous, anti-trans fervor has endangered the Wade family, even with their wealth and renown. The Wades’ fame actually makes them more of a target—as Wade and Union found out when they traveled to the seemingly safe environs of New York City for the Knicks’ opening round playoff series against the Miami Heat. Following the Heat victory, angry Knicks fans yelled that Wade and Union were “mutilating” their child. There is also robust, violent ant-trans community on Twitter that, when they aren’t celebrating bomb threats against children’s hospitals, are holding up Wade and Union as “child abusers.” Through the prism of these monstrous scapegoaters, a man who says, “I never wavered on loving my kids” is called “an abuser.” (I’m not litigious by nature, but I hope Wade sues them all for defamation.)
Yet, in the face of all of this, even with Wade using his platform to stand up for trans lives, his self-exile has not been widely discussed or reported upon in the sports world. There are no breathless takes on ESPN’s yakathon of programming. Even though Wade’s next venture as a game show host is being advertised throughout the NBA playoffs on TNT, it is not being mentioned in the broadcasts. Maybe it is just me, but I think a politician’s driving out an athlete who made his mark on and off the court in Florida should be a bigger deal. The sports media is demonstrating either complicity or fear. (My guess is fear.) The same ESPN network that celebrated Caitlin Jenner’s transition when waters were calmer is now cowed by fears of backlash. Its own anchors, like Sage Steele, take to Twitter to spread anti-trans talking points, yet neither she nor her colleagues are willing to stand up for the Wade family now. Wade has allies throughout the sports world, including in the upper echelons of the NBA offices. It’s time they break their silence.