clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The cost of saying "faggot" in sports has gotten higher thanks to Kobe Bryant

New, comments

$100,000. That's the new baseline for yelling "faggot" in the NBA, based on the fine issued to Kobe Bryant. (Does this mean that "fag" gets you 50K?) As far as I can gather, that's the largest fine in American major pro sports for someone uttering a gay slur.

True, it should have been more and was less than one third of the $365,000 Kobe earns per game, but 100K will get peoples' attention, even rich jocks. It's 10 times what the NFL fined then-Steelers linebacker Joey Porter in 2006 for calling another player a fag. And I could find no evidence that then-Lions general manager Matt Millen was fined anything in 2003 after calling an opposing player a faggot.

Ozzie Guillen, manager of the Chicago White Sox, was fined $20,ooo in 2006 by Major League Baseball for calling a columnist a fag. More recently, Larry Johnson of the Kansas City Chiefs was suspended a game in 2009, costing him $315,000, after using three anti-gay slurs. But the fine was as much for Johnson being an all-around dick to the organization as it was about him being a homophobe; the NFL apparently wanted Johnson fined only $10,000.

There's been some grumbling about Kobe appealing his fine, but that is standard procedure in the NBA regarding such things, so it doesn't mean much. Kobe should and will pay up. It would be terrific if the NBA donated that money to an organization like The Trevor Project, with Kobe kicking in another 100K as a match (it would be a lot less than the $4 million he shelled out on a diamond for Mrs. Kobe around the time he faced that rape charge).

There has not been a lot of focus on Kobe's post-game comments Wednesday, where he was asked once again about calling referee Bennie Adams a "fucking faggot." His first response was lame and not very apologetic, but hours later he sounded a lot more contrite (thanks to Billy Witz of Fox Sports.com for these):

For me, it’s about the bigger message. I made a mistake in terms of what I said, but it’s always the responsibility that carries with it. What I mean by that, is for kids that think it’s OK or it’s cool to call kids that, or to tease them because of that. I don’t stand for that. I never have. I’ve been in so many altercations in high school and middle school protecting kids from that and I certainly won’t be part of enhancing the feeling of that’s OK. I just won’t. We’ll do some things to focus on that. And make sure that’s a top priority and make sure kids understand that.

... You get [on the court] and you don’t really know what you’re doing. You get caught up in the moment and you’re reacting and you’re going. Hopefully, other players will look at the situation I’ve been through and people are watching and kids are watching and you don’t want to have those messages out there.

Those quotes, whether they came after pressure from handlers or from sincere reflection, give Kobe the chance to make good. There are numerous ways he can make a difference in the LGBT community, and I hope he knows that some nice words won't cut it -- actions will.

My theory in dealing with gays in sports is that it's 2 steps forward and 1 1/2-steps back and this was the case here. On the one hand, we were reminded again how prevalent homophobic slurs are in sports, so much so that "faggot" flew out of Kobe's mouth rather than a dozen other less-targeted slurs. It shows that he has been marinated in a culture where "faggot" and all its derivatives remain the slur of choice to put someone down.

On the positive side, the NBA reacted very swiftly and decisively, with David Stern pulling no punches in condemning what Kobe said. Kobe was also roundly criticized in the media and I did not see anyone prominent rushing to his defense. Charles Barkley, for one, said this to the L.A. Times:

“I’m a big pro-gay-marriage person; I have a bunch of gay friends who I hope can get married some day, so I’m a little bit sensitive,” Barkley said. “But I’m not going to go overboard. You have to just be careful what you say with stuff like that.”

One of the greatest and most prominent athletes on the planet was forced to spend a day on the defensive after insulting gay people, and neither his money nor his fame were enough to give him a pass (save for the usual moron fans who defend anything "their" team does). That's progress, no matter how painful.