When I first heard that Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant mouthed a homophobic slur in the middle of a national game broadcast, and you know which word it was, all I could think of was a scene from the 2009 film “The Hangover.”
The scene comes just minutes after this line of monologue: “Hey, this is Phil. Leave me a message, or don’t, but do me a favor: don’t text me, it’s gay.”
Stu Price: They are mature, actually. You just have to get to know them better.
Phil Wenneck: [yells from outside] PAGING DR. FAGGOT. DR. FAGGOT!
Stu Price: I should go.
Melissa: That’s a good idea, Dr. Faggot.
(Watch the video)
Phil’s character, and the film in general, connected with such a wide audience because this cartoonish meat head is so true to life. And Kobe, a role model to many young men, is no better.
But he’s hardly alone.
Michael Jordan, the superstar of NBA superstars, was known to drop a few f-bombs (and I’m not talking about the word that rhymes with truck) in practice during his days with the Chicago Bulls but was never caught publicly. Plenty of other NBA players, ex-players and their fans are no strangers to the that same bomb. Experts on diversity and tolerance have expressed to the media their belief that this instance further signifies that “locker room talk” is “the last bastion of homophobia in this country.”
Bryant was fined $100,000, a decision Bryant said he will appeal. Bryant later issued a statement saying that this outburst was a product of frustration and did not reflect his feelings toward gays. If that’s actually true, then he needs to do a PSA in the same vein as Hilary Duff and Wanda Sykes.
“A lot of people are condemning Kobe for this, but it is language that a lot of men use in our society without knowing what it really means and how ignorant and hurtful it is,” says Jarred Chin of the Society for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University in Boston. Chin is further quoted in the Christian Science Monitor. “When you use that word … you are calling out that person to prove that they are really a man, and to do that, they have to assert it through physical violence.”
Not exactly the best association for a basketball player who was once brought up on rape and assault charges.
Kobe’s public persona aside, he’s only just one troglodyte. He’s a very high profile person using language that’s stuck in the cave, but he’s still one guy. There are recent examples of athletes and fans who are setting the opposite example and giving reason for optimism.
Look first at Brian Sims, a very successful division II college football star. He came out during the season; and his teammates embraced him. Read our three-part interview, to learn more about how many people have been inspired by his courageous example. Then look at the fact that The Stanley Cup made an appearance in last summer’s Pride Parade. Finally, there’s Jerry Pritikin, nicknamed the “Gay Forrest Gump,” or as I call him “the most interesting Cubs fan in the world.”
When will see an openly gay athlete in one of the three major professional sports? Probably not for a while yet; but progress is being made. The outrage and national dialogue Kobe’s remarks have stirred, is, I think, progress. Will this incident outrage one of the many closeted players to come out publicly?
Paul M. Banks is a member of Football Writers Association of America, United States Basketball Writers Association, Society of Professional Journalists, a regular contributor to FOX News and CEO of The Sports Bank.net