NBA Commissioner David Stern on Wednesday afternoon issued a statement condemning Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant for calling referee Bennie Adams a “f#@king fag” in the heat of Tuesday’s night game. Stern also fined Bryant $100,000 for using “such horribly offensive and distasteful language.”
Bryant, the five-time NBA champion and 13-time All Star, can be seen yelling the slur 30 seconds in:
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group, issued this statement:
“What a disgrace for Kobe Bryant to use such horribly offensive and distasteful language, especially when millions of people are watching. Hopefully Mr. Bryant will recognize that as a person with such fame and influence, the use of such language not only offends millions of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] people around the world, but also perpetuates a culture of discrimination and hate that all of us, most notably Mr. Bryant, should be working to eradicate.”
GLAAD, the prominent LGBT media advocacy and anti-defamation organization, took a more measured approach and called on the franchise to step up and educate:
“Discriminatory slurs have no place on or off the court,” said GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios. “Professional sports players need to set a better example for young people who use words like this on the playground and in our schools, creating a climate of intolerance and hostility. The LA Lakers have a responsibility to educate their fans about why this word is unacceptable.”
Bryant made a statement of his own before Stern’s decision:
“What I said last night should not be taken literally,” he said. “My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period. The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.”
GLAAD and HRC are doing what advocacy organizations do. While there are bigger fights to fight, the heavy lift of stamping out homophobia in sports starts at the top. But those statements have nothing on what’s going on in comments sections of gay-related blogs, with people calling for his head.
One commenter wrote: “So we’re surprised when a rapist is also a homophobe?”
Another: “Kobe Bryant is a disgusting person. The LA Lakers are a sexist and homophobic organization.”
Another took aim at his apology, writing: “I think what he meant to say is: ‘It perfectly represents how I feel about the f#@king faggots.’”
Bryant should never have used that word, even if it came from a hardened competitor in the heat of a live sporting event. He doesn’t, and shouldn’t, get a free pass because he’s rich and famous. He was wrong. He definitely knows that. He apologized. And he needs to cut a huge check to the Trevor Project or an anti-bullying campaign of his choice. That much is clear.
But the venom for Kobe, and for those attempting to put his slur into context, is a bit misguided. I know that it’s tough to show restraint for people who don’t afford you the same courtesy, but it’s possible that not every time someone calls someone else a “fag” or says “that’s gay” they actually hate gay people, or even have the slightest problem with gay people. Do you think for one second that Kobe Bryant gives a crap about whether someone has same-sex attractions?
Bryant’s having a bad day, and he’s paying for a clear mistake, an obvious error in judgment. There are idiotic slip-ups, and there are real-deal homophobes that deserve every ounce of our rancor.
Let’s see which way this episode takes him before we continue to call for his blood. Instead, perhaps, we should hail this moment as progress. An athlete used an unusable slur and actually faced punishment for it. Nothing got swept under the rug, and nobody made apologies for him but himself.
If anything, while there’s no more arbitrary phrase than “teachable moment,” this episode tells other athletes that their words will be used against them, and it tells kids in and out of sports that people out there will stand up for them, even when an NBA superstar is standing on the other side.
The negative part of this chapter is closed. Now’s the time to work with Bryant, work with the Lakers, work with the NBA to use this moment to shape future actions. The ugly part’s over.
I mean, good comedy is good comedy.
To read more about the effort to stamp out homophobia in sports, read HV blogger and Winter Olympian Blake Skjellerup’s piece about Athlete Ally’s efforts to stand up for what’s right.