In the heat of an NBA game, Los Angeles Laker star Kobe Bryant shouted a two-word epithet at a NBA ref, estimated to be the 9,675,987, 555, 321,005, 349,674, 021st time a player has insulted a ref in hoops since they started keeping count in 1973. Unfortunately, the two words were “fucking faggot.”
And it was picked up by the TV microphones.
In rapid succession, the Gay Lesbian Transgendered advocates were all over the NBA, calling a foul; Bryant was apologizing, and the NBA was fining Bryant $100,000.
Ethics train wreck. It’s a train wreck because whatever happens at this point, the result has ethical problems, and the lesson is ethically muddled. There is no question at all that if the remark by Bryant hadn’t been picked up by the mics, there would be no issue, no controversy. But it was, which means that a comment intended for one individual (if that) became a national display of incivility (or worse.)
Was it appropriate for the NBA to fine Bryant? Yes. The NBA is in the image business, and Bryant is a top star; it can’t have its stars being broadcast making anti-gay slurs. The fine is necessary to make a statement that league does not tolerate homophobia…whether or not any homophobia was really in evidence.
Is that really the message that is being sent to Kobe by the league? I doubt it. I think the real message is, “watch your mouth when the microphones are on, dummy!” The NBA couldn’t care less what its players think about gays, nor is that any of their business.
What is the public to take from the fine, though? Is Kobe being fined for his thoughts (which we can’t possibly know)…his presumed thoughts, which is unfair….his words regardless of what they were intended to mean, because the word “faggot” is now taboo…or his words because of what they are assumed to mean, even though expletives and insults on the basketball court are essentially meaningless? All of the above, presumably.
Is the fine fair to Bryant? Hardly. As a former gay player noted, such language is common on the court and has been for a long time. Most of the time, it is meaningless. The NBA had no rule prohibiting it; what the NBA was really doing is fining Bryant for getting caught. Some due process and notice problems there, I’d say.
Is it fair to hold language by players in an intense sporting event to the same standards as public discourse generally? No, no, no! Have you ever read the lips of baseball players? On the field, a bunch of guys are cursing and swearing at each other, letting off steam. It’s the heat of battle, and they don’t take it personally…leave them alone. Buuuuut…
When some of that language accidentally spills out into the public, is it fair to treat it as public? Well, it has to be handled that way. Fair or not, I don’t see how it can be avoided.
Was Kobe Bryant’s apology honest and sincere?(“The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.”) Who knows? He had to apologize, so sincerity is difficult to measure. Perhaps this is a Pazuzu apology, as in “I don’t know where those words came from!” I doubt it, though. Of course the epithet was meant to offend; that’s what insults are for. Did he actually mean “faggot” as an anti-gay slur? Would it matter if the ref was gay or not? “If an anti- gay slur falls in the forest….”
I think anyone being forced to pay a huge fine (which is itself misleading, as $100,000 to Kobe Bryant, rich as he is, is like a parking ticket to you or me) for mere words chills free expression and gives the political correctness/thought police power and encouragement we will all regret later. Once the words were out of Kobe’s mouth and hurtling through cables and over satellites, however, the train wreck was on.