I was just about to get over this whole Kobe Bryant thing when I hit the sports page and was reminded of his insulting non-apology.
Perhaps you missed the impetus for it. During a basketball game Tuesday, at the end of a long season, Bryant, the highest-paid player in the NBA, lost his temper and called one of the referees a “faggot.”
I was at that game, because I am a Laker fan. I am also a faggot, as Kobe might say.
My dad called me the next night and said he wanted to return his playoff tickets. Over my dead body. The Lakers are bigger than a slur and, frankly, I just wasn’t that shocked to see someone close to my age lose his temper and use that particular epithet. If anything, his choice of the formal “faggot” as opposed to the more casual “fag,” which is as common in the speech of young people as Geico commercials are on television, was a bit of a throwback.
I don’t like it—at all—I’m just used to it, and if I got worked up every time someone used the word, I wouldn’t be able to get a good night’s sleep or digest food properly.
But I expected more from Kobe, who is on a lifelong campaign to be the greatest of all time and takes a helicopter to work, than the usual bullshit excuse. It’s what Eminem said and it’s what children say, too: I’m not talking about gay people. It’s just an expression.
The subtext is even more hurtful given that “fag” and “gay” are synonymous in the culture with weakness. Don’t be so sensitive.
Here’s Kobe’s statement: “My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period. The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings toward the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.”
Why do I feel like Kobe’s “apology,” which doesn’t use the usual words like “sorry,” is implying that I did something wrong by connecting a slur with its object?
Clearly this would not stand. As Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times succinctly put it, “Not cool, Kobe.”
The NBA jumped on Kobe for his slur, imposing a $100,000 fine, which Kobe is appealing. I would appeal it, too. Slurs suck, but this is America and I make a living from the First Amendment. Besides, I don’t want Kobe’s money. I just want an apology.
Here’s his second attempt, on ESPN radio: “The concern that I have is for those that follow what I say and are inspired by how I play or look to me as a role model or whatever it is, for them not to take what is said as a message of hate or a license to degrade or embarrass or tease. That’s something I don’t want to see happen. It’s important for me to talk about that issue because it’s OK to be who you are, and I don’t want this issue to be a part of something or to magnify something that shouldn’t be.”
Kobe has since made other bumbling attempts to make things right while not actually saying he’s sorry.
At this point he seems sincere in his regret and his obligation to “own” it, although I wonder if he really gets what all the fuss is about. Michael Wilbon, co-host of ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” suggested the fuss is about Kobe: “If this was one of his teammates ... who [is] not really as famous globally, there would be no story here.”
You can keep sliding down that scale. It doesn’t make headlines when a high school kid calls another a fag. But even in Los Angeles, where we have millions of people to worry about, we still care. Cyd Zeigler runs OutSports and had this to say to the L.A. Times: “Los Angeles is one of the gayest cities in America, and the message I’m getting from many is that they are no longer Kobe Bryant fans. ... You can’t use that word and get away with it anymore, because the gay community is just tired of hearing it.”
I’m tired of hearing about it, at least in the context of Kobe Bryant. I’d like it to just go away so my dad can keep his playoff tickets and I can get back to rooting for Andrew Bynum’s knee to heal.
I’m just one apology away from forgiving Kobe, the way I forgive certain friends who slip up from time to time. I don’t need a pledge to condemn bullying, like we’re getting, just an acknowledgment from Kobe that words have power and that his caused a lot of people a measure of pain. Hell, get Nike on the case.
Who am I kidding? Kobe saying sorry now is about as likely as Kobe passing the ball in the fourth quarter.