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On Kobe Bryant's Slur, And The League's Reaction To It

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(Note: This piece was coauthored by Dex and C.A. Clark.)

The NBA announced this afternoon that it has fined Kobe Bryant $100,000 for calling referee Bernie Adams a "faggot" in last night's game. Commissioner David Stern called the remark "offensive and inexcusable" and said, "While I'm fully aware that basketball is an emotional game, such a distasteful term should never be tolerated."

The slur that Kobe used is one that we do not allow to appear on this site, in the comments sections or elsewhere. Although we recognize that people who use it do so with different motivations, not all of them self-consciously malicious, we nonetheless find it offensive and hateful. Not knowing the meaning of a word, or being dismissive of that meaning, is not an excuse. Regardless of Kobe's intention, the expression is one of disparagement and loathing toward a group of people who've done nothing to deserve it. Gays and lesbians are part of our families and communities. They're part of the NBA. And whether they feel like announcing themselves or not, they're part of our community here at Silver Screen and Roll. We welcome them and always will.

Kobe's initial statement about the incident was a classic non-apology that seemed calculated to make the controversy go away without actually admitting fault. He said:

What I said last night should not be taken literally. My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period. The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.

Color us unimpressed. On ESPN Radio 710 this afternoon, Kobe did a better job of accepting responsibility and expressing contrition, stating:

The comment that I made, even though it wasn't meant as what it was perceived to be, is nonetheless wrong. It's important to own that.

The league's condemnation of Kobe's remarks was both appropriate and necessary. We don't know why Kobe chose to use that particular word, but that's less important than the fact that he used it. It is crucial that issues like this not go ignored by the league.

As a matter of precedent, however, that the league attached a hefty fine to the censure raises more questions than it answers. The fine is a symbol, numerically unimportant both to Kobe and to the NBA, but it opens a Pandora's Box as to what the league should and should not seek to remove from the game. What swearing is deemed "offensive and inexcusable" and what words are acceptable? Is Kobe getting fined because he said something he shouldn't have, or getting fined because he was caught? If the NBA uses this incident as a chance to educate its players about why this type of language isn't acceptable, and going forward enforces (as much as possible) these rules of conduct on the rest of the league, then bravo. If nothing happens until the next time someone is foolish enough to be caught on slow-motion replay, we'll know the league's actions were nothing more than saving face. Either way, Stern is appropriately marking Kobe's behavior as well below the standard to which NBA players should be held.

Some have suggested that Kobe is being unfairly singled out because he's Kobe. We don't think that's true, and even if it is, it's beside the point. Kobe is one of the sport's reigning superstars, and along with the massive wealth and adulation that accrues to superstars comes increased scrutiny. That's part of the deal. He represents the league in the eyes of the world, and his conduct - and how the league responds to it - carries outsized importance. If he's being held to a higher standard in this respect than players of lesser stature, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

We wouldn't be worthy of our convictions if we watered them down for players we love. And we do love Kobe Bryant, the player. Kobe Bryant, the man, we've always known to be flawed in complicated ways. This incident adds an unflattering detail to our picture of him. We believe the league has done the right thing in reprimanding him, and we hope this will help others recognize that denigration of gays and lesbians has no place in the sport we love.