The following is an excerpt from John Amaechi’s contribution to Off the Dribble, the NY Times’ NBA blog.
Kobe Bryant isn’t some great, bigoted monster, as some have implied, but he isn’t the innocent victim of some overblown one-off incident about a word that’s “not even that bad,” either.
This controversy is not a storm in a teacup turned into a vendetta by loony liberals, as many in the sports world seem to think. What our heroes say and do means something — and in an America where sports stars carry more influence and in some cases more credibility than senators, what they say matters more than ever.
When someone with the status of Kobe Bryant, arguably the best basketball player in a generation, hurls that antigay slur at a referee or anyone else — let’s call it the F-word — he is telling boys, men and anyone watching that when you are frustrated, when you are as angry as can be, the best way to demean and denigrate a person, even one in a position of power, is to make it clear that you think he is not a real man, but something less.
I challenge you to freeze-frame Bryant’s face in that moment of conflict with the referee Bennie Adams. Really examine the loathing and utter contempt, and realize this is something with which almost every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender person is familiar. That is the sentiment people face in middle and high schools, in places of worship, work and even in their own homes across the United States.
Right now in America young people are being killed and killing themselves simply because of the words and behaviors they are subjected to for being perceived as lesbian or gay, or frankly just different. This is not an indictment of the individuals suffocated by their mistreatment, it is an indication of the power of that word, and others like it, to brutalize and dehumanize. This F-word, which so many people seem to think is no big deal, is the postscript to too many of those lives cut short.
As for the original apology, I am amazed that people still think apologizing in such a way as to make it clear that it was the victims who misunderstood is acceptable. I had hoped that the sorry-if-you-are-oversensitive school of apology would by now have been thoroughly discredited.