Everybody has a verbal flub every now and then, but when that flub is a derogatory slur for gays, and it's caught on camera, there's guaranteed to be repercussions. On Tuesday Kobe Bryant made a gaffe that makes Vice President Biden's comment after the health care bill was signed seem pretty innocuous.
Upset after catching a technical foul, Bryant got into a verbal disagreement with the referee and said an anti-gay slur accompanied by a curse word. As a result, Bryant was fined $100,000 by the NBA and drew the ire of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). After Kobe made what many consider a half-hearted apology, we're left with nothing but questions. Is Kobe homophobic? Was the NBA right to fine him? Is this another indictment of the Black community's relationship with homosexuality?
With most sports, athletes will tell you that trash talking comes with the territory and that in the heat of the moment it can get out of hand. Up until this point, Bryant hasn't exhibited any behavior that would indicate that he was homophobic. People might call him arrogant or selfish, but homophobic? Nope.
John Amaechi, the first openly gay basketball player told USA Today that he doesn't consider Bryant “any more homophobic than the average person or most certainly your average person in sports.”
Amaechi does recognize that homophobia is ingrained in the sports culture, for better or worse: “I'm surprised that people are surprised. This is common language when I played. It was an everyday word that I heard. I haven't seen anything new put in place [by the NBA] to tackle homophobia. There's no reason for it to somehow get better.”
However the NBA did not take Bryant’s outburst lightly. NBA Commissioner David Stern released the following statement yesterday:
“Kobe Bryant’s comment during last night’s game was offensive and inexcusable. While I’m fully aware that basketball is an emotional game, such a distasteful term should never be tolerated. Accordingly, I have fined Kobe $100,000. 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.”
While it's true that what Bryant said was deplorable, one has to wonder if this situation would have transpired if Bryant hadn't been caught on camera. Perhaps, perhaps not. But the $100,000 fine is a good first step in rooting out all forms of discrimination—both on and off-camera—that still exist in the sport.
Until then, Bryant can at least own up to his faux pas with a more contrite apology. The dude just got his endorsements back—he doesn't want to end up like Isaiah Washington.
(Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Landov)