Responding to Lakers player Kobe Bryant’s now infamous use of the slur “faggot” at a game on Tuesday night, for which he was fined $100,000 by the NBA, openly gay former NBA player John Amaechi has said that he believes Bryant may be no more homophobic than the average sports person in the game.
In an interview with USA Today, Amaechi said he was skeptical of Bryant’s apology but also said he was surprised that other people were so surprised by the use of the slur word:
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.
The reason it’s difficult is because of how influential he is. When he talks, not just young people but sports fans in general listen. They mimic. He sets a tone that says, “This is acceptable language when you are frustrated.” It isn’t acceptable language. That’s the larger extent of the damage. That’s like a Glenn Beck non-apology. With a few more words well-chosen he could do some good.
I don’t think he is any more homophobic than the average person, or most certainly your average person in sports. When you’re in the spotlight, when a camera is trained on your face on a daily basis, you don’t have the luxury of losing control. When you do, I like to see people be a little more contrite than that.
Amaechi also said he wasn’t interested in punishing Bryant at this stage, though he hinted he would have imposed a steeper fine had he have been in charge. Rather, and possibly echoing the Human Rights Campaign’s sentiment that this should be a “teachable moment,” Amaechi said he wants to see Bryant take a stand against homophobia if, as Bryant has claimed, this incident is unique and he really does have respect for the LGBT community.
Amaechi went on to say that this incident could have a chilling effect on any closeted gay player currently in the NBA.
He lampoons commentators as well, saying that had someone uttered a racial epithet, there would have been more outrage from the offset instead of a lukewarm response. This may be in reference to TNT analyst Steve Kerr who said while commentating on the game, “You might want to take the camera off [Bryant] right now, for the children watching from home.”
Bryant, who is estimated to earn in excess of $302,000 per regular-season game, has said that he will appeal the $100,000 fine, which is the heaviest levied by the NBA this season and is thought to be the largest ever set by the NBA for a homophobic slur.
Following the incident, NBA Commissioner David Stern said Bryant’s words were “offensive and inexcusable” and said: “While I’m fully aware that basketball is an emotional game, 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.”
LGBT media organization GLAAD has praised the NBA’s swift action in this matter, with GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios saying: “The NBA has sent a clear message to sports fans everywhere that anti-gay slurs have no place in the game. When such a prolific cultural institution like the NBA speaks out against hateful words, we are reminded that fair-minded Americans are siding with equality for all. This decision will serve as an important precedent that will help ensure a safer, more inclusive environment for fans and players everywhere, and we look forward to continuing our dialogue with the NBA.”
A push to reduce homophobia in sports has recently gained traction with several campaigns starting to use sports as a medium to reduce anti-LGBT prejudice and further combat anti-LGBT bullying in schools, the idea being to build on the principles sport fosters, namely respect, dedication and team solidarity, to try and set an example for young people.
One such effort is All-American wrestler and coach Hudson Taylor’s Athlete Ally website where those participating in sport can find advice and resources on how to create an inclusive atmosphere in a team regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Click here to find out more.