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Kobe Bryant may have used a gay slur

Apr 13, 2011, 10:05 AM EDT

Kobe Bryant Getty Images

During Tuesday night’s game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant was hit with a technical foul. When he went to the bench, TNT’s cameras caught him apparently calling referee Bennie Adams a “f******g [gay slur].” (What he said looks pretty clear to me, but watch the video and judge for yourself.) Thanks to the skills of @Jose3030 and the power of twitter, the video quickly went viral.

Let’s be clear about something: Kobe Bryant has been a controversial figure, both on and off the court. This post is not about Kobe Bryant. I don’t know Kobe Bryant personally, but in all my professional dealings with him he has come across as intelligent, funny, and well-adjusted. I have nothing but the utmost respect for him as both a basketball player and a person. The issue here is not Kobe; the issue is the word he used.

I’m sure that if you asked Kobe, he would tell you that he wasn’t expressing any homophobic feelings when he called the referee what he called him. I don’t know whether he actually was or not, but in any case I’m more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. The gay slur Kobe used is often used as a general insult — Kobe lost his temper, and in a fit of rage he called Adams the worst thing he could think of. I don’t think Kobe’s unfortunate choice of words revealed that he has a deep-seeded hatred of gay people.  I do think they revealed that athletes are still comfortable tossing around a word that, like a few other very hurtful and powerful words, should not be tossed around.

The word Kobe used can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. Intelligent, funny people like Louis C.K., Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Joe Rogan have all made cases that when they use the word, they’re not saying that they have a problem with homosexuality or homosexual behavior; they just use it to denote behavior they find unacceptable. The problem with that logic is that while we can control what we say, we can’t always control what people hear, and it’s unreasonable to expect everyone to separate our words from our intentions, especially hurtful words.  In my younger years, I had the foolish belief that proper contexts to use that word somehow existed. I no longer hold that belief in any way, shape or form. The fact is that for a lot of people, homosexual behavior and unacceptable behavior are synonymous. Until that changes, I believe that there is no appropriate context for that word.

In a Gallup poll conducted last May, only 52% of Americans said that they found homosexuality “morally acceptable.” Homosexuals still do not have the right to marriage in most of the country. Research conducted one week ago shows that gay and lesbian teens are twice as likely to experience symptoms of depression as their heterosexual counterparts, and three times more likely to report a history of suicidality. According to the It Gets Better Project, 9 out of 10 LGBT students have experienced harassment at school.

The belief that we are a post-homophobia society is foolish and arrogant. Some people will say that making a “big deal” out of incidents like this reveals that the real problem with our society is that it has become too “politically correct.” Tell that to the teens who have to endure physical and verbal abuse at school because of their sexual orientation, or the families of the teens who couldn’t take the abuse anymore. Maybe the day when it’s okay to use the word that Kobe used and have everybody know that you have no problem with homosexuals or homosexual behavior at all will come someday. I don’t think it will, and I know that that day is not today.

Does the word that Kobe used get used by professional athletes almost every day, in every locker room, without any cameras or tape recorders catching it? Absolutely. In fact, during a playoff game a few seasons ago, Kevin Garnett was actually caught screaming the exact same thing that Kobe screamed. Does that mean that we should say “well, boys will be boys” when someone gets caught on tape like Kobe did? I don’t think so. I’m not calling for Bryant’s head: I believe in freedom of speech, and don’t think he should receive an additional fine or suspension for his choice of words.

What I would like is for some good to come out of this being caught on tape. It’s easy to point the finger when somebody like Tim Hardaway says something blatantly homophobic and pin all the issues with homosexuality and professional sports on isolated cases like him. The truth is that the problems run much deeper, and many of them are more rooted in ignorance than hatred.

Simple math tells us that it would be a miracle if no active MLB, NBA, or NFL player is a homosexual, but no player current athlete has come out, and I would wager that most professional athletes don’t think they have any gay teammates. It’s in environments like that where casual homophobia can seem harmless. Ask yourself this: if Joe Smith, who was sitting next to Kobe, or Bennie Adams, the referee, was gay and Kobe knew that, do you think he still have used that word? If the answer is no, why should we expect any homosexual who was within earshot or watching the game on TV to not have an issue with Kobe’s choice of words? Is it reasonable to ask sports fans to check their feelings about words like the ones Kobe used at the door, words that may have been directed at them, with hate, in their own lives?

This is a beautiful game, and people of all races, religions, and sexual orientations should feel comfortable playing it, watching it, and enjoying it. When the most respected player in the league by players, coaches, and media members alike gets caught uncorking a gay slur and nobody has a problem with it, it can give the impression that the NBA doesn’t care about creating a welcoming environment for all of its fans. Kobe has an opportunity to clear up his feelings about homosexuals and whether or not he believes the word he used is or is not acceptable language. I hope he takes advantage of it, and that the NBA becomes just a bit more welcoming than it would have been otherwise.

  1. Queequeg's Mark - Apr 13, 2011 at 10:20 AM

    The argument here is a little problematic. You are saying that athletes feel comfortable throwing these slurs around but they are not homophobic? Athletes, who shun anyone how might be homosexual from their lock rooms. Now so many issues in Kobe Bryant’s past point to a sense of hypermasculinity, specifically the accusation of rape and his nick name. The dude goes around calling himself “Black Mamba,” which is symbolic to anyone who reads of a penis. I can draw you a picture of a snake head and a penis if you’re interested. Put those two things together and the homophobic slur on top of it, and this dude is homophobic.

    • hollywood26 - Apr 13, 2011 at 1:42 PM

      Actually you are reaching a bit. He calls himself Black Mamba because it is the DEADLIEST animal in the world. He saw it on Discovery and got obsessed. You sound a little like you are projecting here pal.

    • cerow - Apr 13, 2011 at 1:53 PM

      Actually he calls himself the black mamba because the snake is the deadliest in the world..Strikes with 98% accuracy. Which translate to..He is a killer on the court and strikes his opponents with high accuracy. Put these two things together and your last post, and you sound like an idiot!

    • lbcdeeznutz - Apr 13, 2011 at 2:47 PM

      w h a t i f i n d q u e e r i s t h a t y o u b r i n g u p h i s p e n i s i n a n a r t i c l e a b o u t h o m o s e x u a l s. H m m m m m !

  2. ocgunslinger - Apr 13, 2011 at 10:36 AM

    Brother…….this subject is not worth an article. Someone in the heat and passion of a game says something that MAY offend someone. BFD. If I was in the situation it would probably have been a string of epitaphs that would embarrass a longshoreman.

    • ump75 - Apr 14, 2011 at 2:00 AM

      Heat of passion my A–! I am real tired of the “…oh I’m a star so it’s ok to…” It is damn time they start towing the line!

  3. jstrizzle - Apr 13, 2011 at 10:39 AM

    I agree and too don’t think much was meant when he used the slur. At a more ignorant stage in my life I used it as well. I can guarantee with as big a fan base as Kobe has that more than a few were hurt when the word was said. He would probably be best suited to try to use a different word to voice his displeasure. Much easier said than done, of course, but after a while a change could be made.

    My only though is about the sad nature this slur is used in. If a racist term would have came out of his mouth, or any other players, this board would be blowing up with comments whether he is racist or not. However, since it was that word most offended will turn the other cheek so to speak.

    • jstrizzle - Apr 13, 2011 at 1:05 PM

      Not sure why this is getting so many thumbs down. Maybe because it slightly hinted at the fact that Kobe could be ignorant. Was not trying to make that point and don’t necessarily believe that.

  4. jonkam - Apr 13, 2011 at 10:44 AM

    if any of us were in his position we wouldve said worse
    stop over analyzing everything

  5. stinkfingers - Apr 13, 2011 at 10:56 AM

    So what?

    Havent we all been called worse?

  6. hnirobert3 - Apr 13, 2011 at 11:11 AM

    ATHLETES ARE NOT ROLE MODELS, THEY ARE ATHLETES. Most athletes tend to be super competitive and will say things out of emotion that they probably wouldn’t say in regular day to day activities. I don’t like Kobe AT ALL, but who cares? I’m sure he wasn’t the first to say it and he won’t be the last.

    • borderline1988 - Apr 14, 2011 at 12:25 AM

      Kobe, nor any other overpaid, egotistical athlete, have any problem with being considered ‘role models’ when it comes to, say, selling shoes.

      That was the same problem I had with Tiger. He pleaded for privacy with regards to his situation and family, and many people argued that it’s none of our business what he does at home or what he really stands for.
      But get real. The dude made almost a billion dollars off his fans via advertisements and corporate representation. He had no problem being a role model for professionalism when he sold watches. He had no problem having his face plastered all over America with the word ‘family man’ as a caption, next to an Accenture ad.

      The argument that athletes are just athletes, and not role models, is bogus. Kobe only agrees to being labeled a role model when he’s paid to do it, and when the ad ascribes to him a positive quality.

  7. savocabol1 - Apr 13, 2011 at 11:11 AM

    As much as you may not admit Kurt, the issue (that you’re bringing up) is in fact Kobe using the slur. If you saw Shannon Brown, Luke Walton, or even Ron Artest saying that word I can bet you my life savings you would not have written an article about it.

    • savocabol1 - Apr 13, 2011 at 11:11 AM

      *Meant John not Kurt

  8. yankeesjetsknicksrangers - Apr 13, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    I saw it live and thought the same thing, but……. I think he will just deny it since we have no clear audio and aren’t professional lip-readers.

  9. texangirl - Apr 13, 2011 at 11:28 AM

    So what?! Who cares?! Most importantly, did the Lakers win?

  10. purnellmeagrejr - Apr 13, 2011 at 11:28 AM

    The writer is a jerk – just because Kobe is articulate doesn’t make him a decent human – in fact, he’s given us lots of reasons to think otherwise.

    • jstrizzle - Apr 13, 2011 at 11:33 AM

      I don’t think this makes the writer a jerk. I think the article was more intended on attacking the use of homophobic slurs in sports and less of an attack on Kobe himself. In fact to quote from his article:

      “The issue here is not Kobe; the issue is the word he used”

      • purnellmeagrejr - Apr 13, 2011 at 4:41 PM

        jstrizzle Of course the issue is Kobe – it’s like blaming bullets for murders instead of the wielder of the weapon – at best you could say Kobe is a jerk but so are a lot of other athletes.

  11. goodforthegooseandgander - Apr 13, 2011 at 11:46 AM

    If Kobe was white, and he used “f*****g n****r!” he would lose all his endorsements, probably be kicked off the team, and at the very least go through anger management to try to get his career back. This situation is no more acceptable than that. Bigotry is bigotry, and bigoted speech by someone who is held up as a role model to our children is unacceptable, no matter what the reason or who the target. End of story. Shame on you, Kobe.

    • keniskenlen - Apr 13, 2011 at 10:54 PM

      I’ll be sure to shed a tear for oppressed white men everywhere…

  12. 140chrviolation - Apr 13, 2011 at 11:59 AM

    It’s one thing to use a slur, in a fit of anger because you are a frustrated over-competitive a-hole, driven to be great at a meaningless, although very entertaining game. It’s another thing to be a moralizing a-hole telling the rest of us what words can and cannot be used. I made my own jokes about Kobe being caught on video using the word, but Krolik’s thesis takes it for granted that the public should taker offense to a word. Louis CK has made a pretty compelling case, in his 2009 comedy special “Hilarious”, that the word is often not used as a derogation of homosexuals or homosexuality. It is certainly not what I mean when I have said it, nor is it what I was thinking about when I learned to say it back in my school days.

    I find it much more offensive that Krolik thinks he has a handle of social mores. Write about basketball. It’s a great sport and fills the empty places between whatever has relative meaning in the human scale. Don’t get up on your high horse and tell the rest of us what is socially and morally acceptable.

    • keniskenlen - Apr 13, 2011 at 11:12 PM

      Aren’t you doing the same thing in telling Krolik what he should or should not write about?

  13. smashmouthrb25 - Apr 13, 2011 at 12:13 PM

    why is this an issue? because its California? people say worse everyday…follow Rex Ryan for another month and he will probably say it everyday when referring to Brady

  14. jsarge99 - Apr 13, 2011 at 12:13 PM

    The use of homosexual slurs is retarded!

    • whatthe1111 - Apr 13, 2011 at 3:03 PM

      uuuuhhhhhh….. dude you just wrote a slur directed to who are mentally handicapped

      • slopmcflop - Apr 13, 2011 at 5:56 PM

        Nice! You got the joke.

  15. starks3 - Apr 13, 2011 at 12:27 PM

    A slur is a slur. You can’t make a slur when your not from the demographic from which the slur is said.
    If Richard Hatch says F****** on Apprentice it is okay because he has come out and said he is a homosexual.

    Look at it this way, what if Kevin Love said a white referee is a N*****? Would that be okay?? To me there is no difference between what Kobe said vs. my hypothetical of a white player calling a ref the N word.

    • starks3 - Apr 13, 2011 at 12:29 PM

      To further my point, would we then say we don’t think Kevin Love is a racist, he was just angry and called the white ref a N******??

  16. vswho - Apr 13, 2011 at 1:13 PM

    the truth of the matter is that calling something “g@y” can have nothing to do w/their sexual orientation. but to try and tie Kobe calling a ref or the call the ref made g@y into an article about suicidal teens & depression is just trying way too hard & reaching for a story. i agree that prejudice is prejudice and bigotry is bigotry but Kobe’s comment had nothing to do with the ref’s sexual orientation. maybe in the future you’d rather Kobe just call the ref a b***h?

    can we get to some real news now please? thanks.

  17. lbcdeeznutz - Apr 13, 2011 at 2:11 PM

    maybe he was just calling the ref a british cigarette?

  18. drop703 - Apr 13, 2011 at 2:29 PM

    Please stop comparing the N word to what Kobe said. Yes, calling the ref a homosexual slur was wrong but the “N” word has oppressed and impacted the lives of african-americans for over 100 years. Calling someone the “F” word is definitely an insult, but IMO much easier to absorb than the latter.

    • wallybird1234 - Apr 13, 2011 at 2:50 PM

      You are only partially right. Except, your forgot to note that gays have been oppressed for as long as African Americans (longer, actually), and in fact, gays do not currently have all of the legal rights as blacks (e.g., marriage equality, employment opportunities and protection, adoption rights, property ownership and transfer, healthcare decisions, hundreds of tax benefits, just to name a few).

      In other words, gays/lesbians remain THE sole, lone, ONLY group of law abiding – tax paying citizens that are legally discriminated against. The fact is, it is NOT “easier to absorb” that a group of people (blacks, like Kobe) who once HAD BEEN legally discriminated against, yet now have all of their legal rights, use a slur referring to the ONLY group of Americans still without all their rights and protections under the constitution. A black person using the “F” words is particularly egregious in view of their own past. He’s a bigot, ’nuff said.

  19. seanb20124 - Apr 13, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    OMG!! He used the F word

    • lbcdeeznutz - Apr 13, 2011 at 3:18 PM

      Your comment is an insult to the real f word!

  20. youravgjoe42 - Apr 13, 2011 at 3:26 PM

    I largely agree with many of the sentiments expressed in this article. Its a shame that to Kobe being gay is an insult. Its hurtful to people who are gay that many people feel that way. I know of very few people who would lift a finger to speak up for equal treatment of gays who throw around gay slurs casually. I too have no idea if Kobe harbors any true animosity towards gay people, but he certainly placed opened up the door to questions regarding his views on this topic out with his casual and public shouting of the slur. He deserves the criticism that results from that language, and has daily opportunities to speak out positively on the issue if he feels that the usage of the slur misrepresents his actual feelings on the treatment of gay men and women. I guess time will tell.

  21. spiffvanslick - Apr 13, 2011 at 3:27 PM

    so why are these guys idolized? just goes to show, especially in Kobe’s case, being a great athelete doesn’t make him a great man.

  22. lbcdeeznutz - Apr 13, 2011 at 3:35 PM

    It is about time we normies take the word gay back. It means happy okay. It is an insult to happiness that the LGBT community uses it to exclude regular people from being happy. :)

  23. drop703 - Apr 13, 2011 at 5:04 PM

    Wow @ Kobe being a bigot….Yes he made a mistake, but really? IMO, he wasn’t actually questioning the ref’s sexual preferences or accusing him of being homosexual. He was upset and said something he shouldn’t have. @youravgjoe42…Who truly knows if Kobe thinks being gay is an insult. In society, a lot straight men are ridiculed by being too pretty or metrosexual, or acting like a woman in a certain situations, etc…so you heard a lot of men call men they perceived as such the “B” word. Certainly, that’s not as hurtful as being called the “F” word but I think he meant it in the same context.

    Now…@wallybird1234 I agree with you to a certain extent but in no way are the two words/races/similar…you sound like you know history pretty well. You definitely don’t want to realistic compare the two do you?

  24. chris woolford - Apr 13, 2011 at 7:12 PM

    Here, here John. Good article.

  25. dragonbloop - Apr 14, 2011 at 12:51 AM

    This is the most biased news issue I have seen in a while. Personally, I support the gay rights movement, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to. Kobe Bryant has every right to be against homosexuality as long as his expression of this dislike remains in legal means. We have no right to control how he feels or what he says; freedom of speech is a right granted to us and emotional restriction is impossible. Furthermore, words are what you empower them to be. The term faggot originally referred to cigarettes or lit sticks, our society empowered it to be a degrading term, and we can just as easily empower it not to be. Next time you write an article, try to show some journalistic professionalism and try to begin your article without the assumption that people have no right to be homophobic.

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