Kobe Bryant’s Two-Word Ethics Train Wreck

"Fucking" + "faggot"= ?

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.

7 thoughts on “Kobe Bryant’s Two-Word Ethics Train Wreck

  1. I assume you meant a gay former player. Or is he still playing but no longer gay?

    I think the rules of cursing are it’s OK to call someone a fucking [x], where [x] is something you consider quite low, like piece of shit, jerk, asshole, etc. The piece of shit isn’t likely to be offended. But when you call someone a fucking [y] , where [y] is an identifiable group, you’re demeaning the whole group. hence fucking faggot is a slur, as is fucking nigger, fucking Jew (or it’s conjugate, “Jew bastard”), or fucking faggot. When you use the “fucking [y] ” epithet you display an ugly hostility toward [y]’s.

    So I think Mel Gibson is a fucking anti-Semite, and I think Kobe is a fucking homophobe.

    • I think Mel is a fucking homophobe, but I’ve been in groups (as a teen) where “faggot” was a generic tern of derision, and nobody was thinking about gays at all. (I didn’t even know what being gay was, to be frank about it.) And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if this were true in the NBA culture? Then what?

      Besides, nobody fined Mel for his ant-Jewish rant—we just don’t like him much.

      • If in the “NBA culture” the players don’t know what “faggot” means, they have got to be the most clueless, naive, innocent, stupid rubes imaginable — and most of them suppsedly went to college for at least awhile.

        C’mon, JM, gimme a break.

        • I didn’t say THEY didn’t know what the word “means,” Cur; I said I didn’t when I was about 15, and I’m not in the NBA. I’m saying that I knew one kid who called everyone a “faggot” when he was annoyed at them, and that in sports settings I’ve heard black men call other black men “niggers” and men call other men “ladies”…and “motherfucker” is a pretty serious accusation, when you think of it. I’m saying that uttering the word once on a basketball court with colleagues who may say the same thing from time to time to time, at a ref who is called worse 10X a game doesn’t necessarily mean that Kobe is homophobic. I understand that the fact that activists chose to assume so—not necessarily because they believe it but because it gives then political leverage in the culture wars—made both a Kobe apology (now two) and an NBA expression of horror necessary.

          I confess that I have never used either faggot or fag in any setting, because I’m not homophobic, but also because I have no use for them. And because I was always lousy at basketball.

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