The Mavs schooled the Lakers this week, but there’s one lesson L.A.’s star player still needs to learn
DAN WOOG | Contributing Sports Writer
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 somehow missed it) came last month, after receiving a technical foul. Bryant (for those of you who somehow don’t know that his team, the Lakers, got schooled by the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs) is one of the NBA’s true superstars, making about $25 million a year. In other words, he’s 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 hurling anti-slurs.
Kobe is one of the most recognized athletes in the world. His purple No. 24 jersey is worn by admiring fans around the globe. Millions of people look up to Kobe, admire everything he does.
And listen 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 NBA acted swiftly, with Commissioner David Stern calling Bryant’s outburst “offensive and inexcusable … such a distasteful term should never be tolerated … and [has] no place in our game.” He then fined Bryant $100,000.
Seem like a lot? Not when compared with some NBA fines: In 2007, the league fined Vladimir Radmanovic (also a Laker — and another reason to root for the Mavs) $500,000 for violating his contract by snowboarding.
Despite his “apology,” Bryant said he would fight the fine, a step he called “standard protocol,” whatever that means.
Come to think of it, “standard protocol” could mean standing up, admitting to 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 Bryant could lead 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 already doing. The Phoenix Suns teammates recently filmed a public service announcement for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and the Ad Council’s “Think Before You Speak Campaign” that 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 statement about language.
Ironically, Hall and Dudley taped their PSA just hours before Bryant demonstrated his own inability to think before he spoke.
Words aren’t the only weapons; images hurt, too. For years, the Washington Wizards have shown a “Kiss Cam” where two people appear on the JumboTron and are urged to kiss. The crowd goes crazy (hey, it’s better than watching the Wizards play). Then the camera cuts to two players from the visiting team. Now the fans really howl. The players make faces, hide under towels or pretend to ignore each other.
But what would happen if the “Kiss Cam” showed two male fans and they did kiss, because they had gone to the game as a couple? 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 would speak far louder than his “fucking faggot” words. Or the half-hearted “heat of the moment” apology that followed.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 13, 2011.