Maybe We Should’t Be So Quick to Idolize a Gay-Bashing Skateboarder
Jay Adams, a guy who had really good balance on his skateboard and, as a member of the Z-Boys, helped to define skating as we know it, died from a heart attack on Thursday while vacationing in Mexico. Although he lived most of his life outside the spotlight, he was brought into mainstream consciousness in 2001 thanks to the documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, and then again in 2005, when he was portrayed by Emile Hirsch in Lords of Dogtown. Adams’s death was picked up by most major news outlets, almost all of which used the words “legend” or “legendary” in their headlines and went on to describe him as a bad boy who pushed the sport away from dance-y, ballerina-style contests and into the more aggressive street and pool skating that birthed modern-day skateboarding. Less discussed was the gay-bashing Adams initiated in Los Angeles that left a man dead.
While I appreciate Adams’s contribution to skateboarding as much as the next guy, it seems odd that virtually every obituary published over the last four days has glossed over or completely failed to mention that one time in 1982 when he helped kill a guy. Adams, describing the incident toJuice magazine in 2000, said, “After a show at the Starwood we went to a place called the Okiedogs and two homosexual guys walked by and I started a fight.” One of those homosexuals was named Dan Bradbury, and, as mentioned above, was killed in the brawl. Although Adams was charged with murder, he claimed that he had left the fight by the time the man died, and was convicted of felony assault. He served just six months in prison.
Scanning through the barrage of celebratory obituaries, one could be forgiven for missing that rather large blemish on Adams’s resume.
The initial New York Times obituary on his death failed to mention that Adams, who, as their headline says, “changed skateboarding into something radical,” participated in what looks an awful lot like a hate crime a few decades ago. A more in-depth follow-up story published Sunday with the title “In Empty Pools, Sport’s Pioneer Found a Way to Make a Splash” devotes one sentence to it: “In 1982 he was convicted of felony assault for involvement in the stomping death of a gay man at a concert in Hollywood.” The Associated Press acknowledged the incident in which the “colorful rebel” started a fight and then helped beat a gay man to death by writing, “At the height of his fame in the early 1980s, Adams was convicted of felony assault, launching a string of prison stints over the next 24 years”—with no mention of the fact that the victim was a gay man, or that he died as a result. The Los Angeles Times, who called Adams “legendary” and “one of the edgy Z-boys of the sport,” devoted one sentence to the incident, also with no mention of the fact that Bradbury was gay, summing it up neatly: “He served six months for his involvement in a fight in Hollywood that resulted a man’s death.” [sic]