The conversation: Kobe Bryant's apology not good enough
Lakers All-Star guard Kobe Bryant has apologized ("and apologized, and apologized, and apologized," as a newscaster said on CNN Thursday morning) for using an anti-gay slur against referee Bernie Adams during Tuesday's game. The NBA has also fined him $100,000. But is that enough of a mea culpa, especially when you consider his official statement, which didn't take into account the weight of what he said, nor his huge influence.
"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."
So, we should forgive knee-jerk slurs when they happen in the heat of the moment, because presumably people can't control themselves when their adrenaline is pumping? Bryant is a professional athlete -- emphasis on the professional -- and he should have behaved accordingly. He's also a public figure with a responsibility to the city that has embraced him as a hometown hero.
Here's how some have received his apology. (A word of warning: The slur appears in a couple of spots.) The common theme: Not good enough.
Ex-NBA player John Amaechi, who is gay, told USA Today:
I suppose that's the typical, "I apologize if you're offended" type of comment. I doubt very much when he said that that he thought Bennie was a pile of sticks. There's only one contemporary meaning for that.
The problem we have now is because of the way we don't address homophobia, the ultimate insult to a man is to tell them either they're like a woman or worse, that they're gay.
We have to take it as unacceptable as a white person screaming the N-word at a black person. … I can tell you that I've been called a [the anti-gay slur] fairly routinely, and yet people seem to hold off on calling me the N-word. We've got to mirror that progress.
Says the Human Rights Campaign:
Hopefully Mr. Bryant will recognize that as a person with such fame and influence, the use of such language not only offends millions of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] people around the world, but also perpetuates a culture of discrimination and hate that all of us, most notably Mr. Bryant, should be working to eradicate.
The Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke wrote:
You called someone a "faggot," and you say you didn't mean to offend anyone? That may work in the insulated sports world, but not in a diverse and tolerant Los Angeles that has mostly supported you for your entire adult life.
You need to fix this, Kobe.
In the last 15 years, I've seen Kobe Bryant grow from a snotty kid to a strong and sensible man, but he is still filled with some sharp edges that make him difficult to embrace, and his city felt one of them Tuesday night at Staples Center when television caught him shouting the anti-gay slur known in the gay community as "the F word."
He had just been given a technical foul. He had just punched a chair. He was screaming at official Bennie Adams. He was Kobe being Kobe. […]
Entering the final two months of a journey that could bring him a sixth NBA title -- one more than Magic Johnson -- Bryant is putting the final touches on the legacy of a champion. But because it has been filled with so many bumps and bruises, that legacy remains as fragile as his knees.
Any perception that he is homophobic, especially in Los Angeles, would chip away at his newly strengthened cornerstone while adding to the smoldering wreckage of the days when he was scorned for his recklessness off the court and his selfishness on it.
Bryant's taut personality will never allow him to spend his post-basketball career like the charismatic and influential Magic. But if he wants to maintain his own brand of magic, he needs to show folks that the screaming fool on Tuesday night was indeed not him.
Peter Z. Scheer, who is gay and a Lakers fan, added to the conversation on truthdig:
I don't like it -- at all -- I'm just used to it, and if I got worked up every time someone used the word I wouldn't be able to get a good night's sleep or digest food properly.
But I expected more from Kobe, who is on a life-long campaign to be the greatest of all time and takes a helicopter to work, than the usual [expletive] excuse. It's what Eminem said and it's what children say, too: I'm not talking about gay people. It's just an expression.
The subtext is even more hurtful given that "fag" and "gay" are synonymous in the culture with weakness. Don't be so sensitive.
The NBA jumped on Kobe after his slur and statement with a $100,000 fine, which Kobe is appealing. I would appeal it, too. Slurs suck, but this is America and I make a living from the first amendment. Besides, I don't want Kobe's money. I just want an apology.
-- Alexandra Le Tellier
Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant looks to pass after drawing Kings defenders to him under the basket in the first half Wednesday night in Sacramento. Credit: Cary Edmondson / US Presswire