Kobe Bryant may have used a gay slur

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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.

Shaq attacks verse in new TV series "Poetry in America"

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shaquille O’Neal called himself “The Big Baryshnikov” and “The Big Socrates” in his days in the NBA. Now he can add “The Big Shakespeare.”

The basketball Hall-of-Famer, TNT TV analyst, commercial pitchman and onetime rapper is putting poetry on his lengthy resume as part of a new public television series.

He brings his best bard to a dramatic reading of a poem in his episode of the 12-part “Poetry in America ,” then discusses it with Elisa New, a Harvard English professor who hosts the show.

“I’ve always been into poetry,” O’Neal said in an interview with The Associated Press in a sunlit conference room overlooking the Los Angeles skyline. “I’ve been writing rhymes all my life.”

“Poetry in America,” distributed by American Public Television and presented by WGBH in Boston, is airing at various times on local public TV stations. Some episodes, including Shaq’s, are already available to stream.

On the show the 46-year-old former All-Star from the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat recites “Fast Break,” a poem by Edward Hirsch from his 1986 book “Wild Gratitude.” It describes some very imperfect players who manage to put together a perfect basketball play.

“A hook shot kisses the rim and hangs there, helplessly, but doesn’t drop,” the poem begins, “and for once our gangly starting center boxes out his man.”

O’Neal, whose 350-pound bulk would never be called “gangly,” still related to the center in the verse, but said he initially missed the poem’s point.

“The first mistake I made was thinking it was about basketball,” he said. “I read it real quick I said `fast break, shovel passes, sure, this is what I do.”‘

He said New, who sat next to O’Neal in the interview and like almost everyone is utterly dwarfed by him, gave him whole new insights that led to a fast friendship.

“When she broke it down intelligently for me, I was very astounded and very amazed,”

The poem is written for a close friend and playing partner of Hirsch’s who had just died. That’s easy to miss if you skip past the dedication at the top, as most readers do.

“It’s fun that only later as you’re reading, you look back at that dedication,” New said. “One line can change everything.”

Suddenly it becomes an examination of transcendent moments and human connections.

“It’s about friendship, it’s about caring, it’s about emotions,” O’Neal said. “I had missed that.”

His latest learning experience took O’Neal’s thoughts back to high school, where he had a 69 percent in English after blowing a test during the basketball playoffs, and needed a 70 to stay eligible for sports.

The teacher allowed him a retest, and suggested a tutor.

“This guy, his name was McDougal, he was a geek, he saved my academic life,” O’Neal said. “Everybody bullied him in school, except me.”

O’Neal said he took the work and “broke it down, made it seem so simple.”

“I retook the test, got an 80, and we won the state championship,” O’Neal said.

“Now,” he said, “I always tell kids I’m a geek.”

The professor had another name for him. “He’s a learner!”

O’Neal partly looked the poet during the interview in a polo shirt and jeans, having traded his basketball sneakers for a pair of slip-on Toms shoes, size 22.

When he wanted them, a company executive told him “it wouldn’t be worth it to make them in my size unless I bought 500 of them,” O’Neal said. “I told him to give me 2,000.”

 

Rumor: Grizzlies had to choose between Marc Gasol and David Fizdale

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David Fizdale has been linked to most of the NBA’s head-coaching vacancies.

He developed a legion of backers as lead a Heat assistant, and he did good things guiding the Grizzlies before they unexpectedly fired him. He deserves consideration.

But he also must explain his fractured relationship with Memphis star Marc Gasol. They weren’t speaking for a while.

And maybe the problem was even worse than that.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to a source close to Fizdale briefed on the Grizzlies’ decision, it was ownership having to make a choice — trade their All-Star center Marc Gasol, who has fallen in love with its small-market city, or fire the coach. Their relationship had gotten that bad.

If Grizzlies ownership felt it had to choose between Gasol and Fizdale, it’s not clear why.

Fizdale benched Gasol down the stretch during the coach’s last game, and Gasol publicly expressed his frustration.

But Gasol denied issuing a me-or-Fizdale ultimatum. Fizdale said focus on his relationship with Gasol was “overblown,” adding he cared far more about whether he could win with a player than whether they got along personally.

Memphis obviously sided with Gasol – probably too strongly.

LeBron James bought Cavs teammates matching designer suits to wear to game tonight

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I’m still trying to decide if this is cool or a little too Stepford.

The Cavaliers rolled into the Bakers’ Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis tonight wearing matching designer suits, all paid for by LeBron James and custom fitted to each player.

If a college team rolled into a game in four-digit designer suits, the NCAA would have questions. And not about the vests.

The Cavaliers are LeBron’s team, and if he wants to buy his teammates suits and tell them to wear them it’s going to happen. Is it a bonding thing that helps bring them together? Sure. Is it in place to make sure LeBron remembers which ones are his new teammates? Probably not.

Do the suits help on the court? No. And the Cavaliers better bring it in Game 3 because if they go down 2-1 in this series — something that is a realistic possibility — the whispers of doubt are going to get a lot louder.

Report: Knicks to discuss coaching vacancy with Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer

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Mike Budenholzer is restless in Atlanta, seeing a rebuild coming and looking at other jobs (something Hawks management is fine with). He went down the road a ways with the Suns before pulling out of that process, but he’s still looking around.

The Knicks are casting a wide net in their search, talking to virtually everyone looking for coaching jobs.

So, this seemed inevitable, right? Budenholzer and the Knicks are going to talk, according to Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

This will be very preliminary. The Knicks have already had some level of conversation with Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Jerry Stackhouse, David Blatt, Mike Woodson, and TNT analyst Kenny Smith (Jackson and Fizdale are the rumored early leaders). Budenholzer has established a style and culture in Atlanta, giving the franchise a path forward. New York could certainly use that.

However, the Knicks job comes with real challenges, too. That starts with James Dolan as owner and the erratic, at times paranoid culture he has created there. Also, expectations in New York are always high, but the team will be without Kristaps Porzigis for at least half (maybe all) of the upcoming season as he recovers from an ACL injury, and that puts a ceiling on the team in the short term. Is all that worth leaving Atlanta for?