By Dan Woog
I’m pretty sure Bennie Adams is straight. So what’s the big deal with Kobe Bryant calling him a “fucking faggot” during a nationally televised game?
After all, that’s common parlance in locker rooms and on basketball courts around the country – not to mention countless school hallways, playgrounds and everywhere else.
Bryant’s outburst – for those of you who may somehow have missed it – came last month, after receiving a technical foul. Bryant – for those of you who may somehow not know him – is one of the National Basketball Association’s true superstars. He’s a 13-time All-Star, and makes about $25 million a year.
In other words: Kobe Bryant is not some kid playing Horse in an empty gym. He’s not a boy who doesn’t know any better, or a closeted kid trying to fit in by saying anti-gay stuff every chance he gets.
Kobe Bryant is one of the most recognized athletes in the world. His purple #24 jersey is worn by admiring fans around the globe. Millions of people look up to Kobe Bryant, admiring everything he does.
And listening to every word he says.
When it became clear that his f-bomb detonated loudly, Bryant went into damage control. Through the Lakers, he issued one of those non-apology apologies: “What I said last night should not be taken literally. My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period. The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings toward the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.”
So what are Bryant’s “feelings toward the gay and lesbian communities?” He didn’t say.
If he did not mean to offend anyone, why did he call Adams a “fucking faggot”? Why not “a horrible official”? Or simply “you asshole”?
The National Basketball Association acted swiftly. Commissioner David Stern called Bryant’s outburst “offensive and inexcusable.” Acknowledging that basketball is “an emotional game,” he added, “such a distasteful term should never be tolerated….Kobe and everyone associated with the NBA know that insensitive or derogatory comments are not acceptable and have no place in our game or society.”
Stern then fined Bryant $100,000.
Seems like a lot, huh?
Well, not if you have Bryant’s net worth. And not – as the Good Men Project revealed – when compared with other NBA fines. In 2007 the league fined Vladimir Radmanovic – another Laker, ironically – $500,000 for violating his contract by snowboarding. (He separated a shoulder, and was out of action for several weeks.)
And despite his “apology,” Bryant said he would fight the fine. He called the appeal “standard protocol,” whatever that means.
Come to think of it, “standard protocol” could mean standing up, admitting a mistake, recognizing the power of role models, and issuing a strong statement explaining exactly why words like “faggot” hurt. Describing how they hurt straight kids as well as gay ones, by reinforcing stereotypes.
Then, for good measure, Bryant could say he’s leading a campaign to eliminate, once and for all, the use of anti-gay words in basketball.
In other words, he could do something like what NBA players Grant Hill and Jared Dudley are doing.
They might not have Bryant’s stature – though Hill is no slouch himself – but the Phoenix Suns teammates recently filmed a public service announcement for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
Part of GLSEN and the Ad Council’s “Think Before You Speak Campaign,” it airs during the NBA playoffs. The ads are striking; they reach an important audience during a high-powered event, and the NBA’s commitment to the campaign underscores Stern’s strong statement about the power of language.
Ironically, Hall and Dudley taped their public service announcement just hours before Bryant demonstrated his own inability to think before he spoke.
But words are not the only weapons that can hurt. Images do too.
For years, the NBA’s Washington Wizards have shown a “Kiss Cam” during games. Two people appear on a giant TV screen, and are urged to kiss. Sometimes they’re strangers sitting next to each other. The crowd goes crazy (hey, it’s better than watching the Wizards play).
Then the camera cuts to two players from the visiting team, on their bench. The words “Kiss Cam” remain on the screen. Now the fans really howl. The players make faces, hide under towels, or pretend to ignore each other.
What would happen, I wonder, if the “Kiss Cam” showed two guys – men who were not teammates, that is. And what if they did kiss, because they had gone to the game together?
Maybe it could happen when the Wizards play the Lakers. Maybe after the game Kobe Bryant could head into the stands, high-five the couple and pose for a picture.
That action, I’m betting, would speak far louder than his “fucking faggot” words. Or the half-hearted “heat of the moment” apology that followed.