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.