All Gay Slurs Not Created Equal in the NBA

Apparently all gay slurs are not created equal in the National Basketball League. Joakim Noah was fined $50,000 for yelling “F*ck you, faggot” at a fan last week. This was 50% less than Kobe Bryant was fined by the NBA for calling a referee a “f*cking faggot” last month, giving the impression that all gay slurs are not the same to the NBA.

The NBA’s reasoning for Noah’s lighter financial punishment was that his slur was directed to a fan rather than a ref! The League felt that it was justified because the fan provoked Noah, and the fine reflected the different circumstances. NBA Executive Vice President of Basketball operations Stu Jackson:

The issue really is the term. In one case, in Kobe’s case, the term was used but directed at somebody who is in the game, without provocation. With Noah the argument can be made – and it happens to be true – that he was provoked, and he used a statement to a fan that passed by him. So it’s different circumstances. We’ll continue to evaluate each one of these incidents separately and make a determination. But we felt in this case a higher fine wasn’t warranted.

This is a very strange decision for two reasons:

1) It shows fans that they are lower priority than the referees. This is not exactly the right message to send to the people that are paying money to see these games, essentially paying the salaries of everyone on the court – refs included.

On Twitter, fans felt disrespected that the league seemed to value its own officials more than the fans:

https://twitter.com/#!/LD2k/status/72775859420925952

2) It shows the world that there are varying degrees of verbal harassment, and that calling one person a faggot is not necessarily the same as calling a different person a faggot. To whom the slur is directed to does not diminish the discriminatory nature of the word. It does not diminish the pain that many gays feel when they hear someone use the word. Regardless of who says it, or who they are saying it to, that word hurts. It should be treated with the same swift punishment no matter where it’s heard. It is not acceptable, ever.

While the NBA might have messed up with Noah’s fine, Noah himself has done it all right. He has been extremely apologetic, giving heartfelt apologies, not avoiding press, and in general being a fantastic example of magnanimity in owning his mistakes.

In an interview with ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, an openly gay sports writer, Noah sounded truly heartbroken at his actions:

You know, all my best friends live downtown in New York City. I was made in Soho. Sometimes, when you’re at this level you don’t realize the consequences or how much a word can bother people. My mom’s best friend was gay. We used to call him “Mom.” So I’m disappointed because that’s not me. I didn’t mean any harm to anybody. I don’t want anyone to feel disrespected by what I said, and I understand that’s what’s going to happen.

Sometimes you just get caught up. Now that we’re talking about it and analyzing it, you know, it’s even more disappointing. It’s disappointing because I’m not like that.

I’m pissed off at myself because that’s not who I am.

Noah, we’re impressed that you stood up and straight-up apologized. None of this “if I offended anybody” BS. It was straight from the heart, and he truly seems mortified at his actions. Lesson learned. Let’s just hope that this behavior is gradually being eliminated in professional sports, and that the NBA realizes that there should be a consistent punishment for verbal abuse – no matter who it’s directed to.