Kobe Bryant Hates Gay People

The latest NBA non-news is that Kobe Bryant visibly shouted a “homophobic slur” toward the general direction of referee Bennie Adams during last night’s Spurs game. However he intended it – whether homophobically, derisively, playfully, ironically – he said the words “fucking faggot” visibly enough to be seen on TNT’s national telecast (key word: visibly). This gesture was enough to make David Stern slap a $100,000 fine on him.

(Both TMZ and ESPN versions included)

Unsurprisingly, the story has played out with the usual narrative – athlete retracts and apologizes for offensive remarks, human rights groups criticize the language used as hateful and derogatory. In the end, the media and general public are left to debate about whether to feel angry or forgiving. Of course, anger and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin – they both start with the premise that someone did something wrong. But what if assume that Kobe did nothing wrong? What if we assume that what he said wasn’t offensive, but just instinctive? What if no one’s feelings were hurt? What if we stepped beyond the conventional boundaries of this issue? How would the narrative shift?

Very little room is left for challenging questions to exist in the sensitive context of “offensive” language. We don’t ask people why they feel upset about a 9/11 joke, a Jesus joke, a black joke, a Holocaust joke, an abortion joke. Such ill-fated attempts at humor universally start as an attempt at humor, rather than ignorance or hatred. Then why does the end result read as ignorance and hatred? What gets lost along the way? Questions like these are valid but never get asked, perhaps in fear that they in turn will be considered “offensive.” Here’s what we are all wondering but are too afraid to ask:

Q1: Why is the word “faggot” considered offensive in the first place? Why in this instance, specifically?

Q2: Would Kobe be fined if what he said wasn’t so blatantly noticeable?

Q3: Would people care more about Kobe Bryant saying the word “faggot” than, say, Shannon Brown?

Q4: What the hell does this Kobe quote mean: “The comment that I made, even though it wasn’t meant in the way it was perceived to be, is nonetheless wrong, so it’s important to own that”?

Q5: Is anything inherently offensive, regardless of context? If yes, what? If not, what context could be provided for the word “faggot” to not be considered offensive?

Offensiveness is a very delicate and elusive issue. It is a study on meanings and symbols, intentions and results. It is a miscommunication that so often refuses to be decoded. In my original draft, I started answering the above questions. I’m not going to anymore, partly because I’m lazy and sleepy, and mainly because the questions speak for themselves. I’d rather allow your minds to remain open to this conversation than be clouded or closed by my thoughts about it. Feel free to share your thoughts about this in the messages. Look forward to hearing from you. Faggots.


2 thoughts on “Kobe Bryant Hates Gay People

  1. Maybe we could shift our attention up to a meta- level of discourse and ask what our entirely predictable “conversation” about the event in question is doing. The “conversation” is predictable because we’ve heard it before, because it has a script. “We” saw it with Michael Richards (“He’s a nigger!”), Rosie O’Donnell (“ching-chong”), Don Imus (“nappy-headed hos”), Professor Griff, a bunch of white men at yr college, ad infinitum. It is the case that someone says some stupid thing, there is an immediate backlash, then a reaction to that backlash, people get bored, everyone feels more set in their positions and we all go home and go back to watching the NBA, nothing changed. So why have the “conversation” at all? Kobe will remain largely unaffected, though maybe he’ll phone in a few dull, apologetic remarks. He’s arguably the best player in the NBA: that he’s probably a rapist and a bully willing to use homophobic slurs doesn’t really affect his chances of, e.g., playing for one of the country’s best teams.

    I don’t think the question is “when is a word offensive,” and esp. not “when is a potentially offensive word ‘funny’?” not just because Kobe is about as charming as a goddamn lampshade, but because the onus is not on the oppressed to explain WHY they are offended by some schmuck’s insensitivity. Kobe knows that that word is offensive. Of course he does. More importantly, he knows the punitive limitations of the backlash and how to navigate this (always brief) “furor.”

    I guess I’m wondering how those of us concerned with LGBT rights/queer liberation or whatever can more productively effect change in this society. I don’t think voicing our concerns about a pop star’s remarks reflects a very good understanding of structure and social change. And that’s not directing at you, Paolo. That’s … directed at me. And yes, circularity, I’m talking about not talking about what I’m talking about, but I’ve tried to push it up a level to give it some dignity.

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