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Monday, May 16, 2011

Sticks and Stones...

Kobe Bryant received a $100,000 fine from the NBA and heavy censure from the media for calling referee Bennie Adams a "faggot" after Bryant disagreed with a call that Adams made during an April 12 game. Bryant offered a full apology: "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. 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." Bryant skipped the "if I offended anyone" cliche and wholeheartedly admitted that he was wrong. When NBA Commissioner David Stern announced the $100,000 fine he issued a statement that read in part, "While I'm fully aware that basketball is an emotional game, such a distasteful term should never be tolerated. Accordingly, I have fined Kobe $100,000. Kobe and everyone associated with the NBA know that insensitive or derogatory comments are not acceptable and have no place in our game or society."

LeBron James called a reporter's question "retarded" during a press conference on May 7 after Miami's game three loss to Boston. James initially denied using the word but later reversed his denial and offered this line straight out of Weak Apology 101: "If I offended anyone, I sincerely apologize." There is no indication that the NBA plans to fine James nor has there been much of a national media outcry about what James said.

Neither of these stories fits under the purview of what I usually cover here and that is why I did not write a word about either one until now--but what is interesting is not so much what Bryant and James said but rather the vastly different ways that the two incidents have been covered. I almost wrote "similar incidents" but that would not actually be correct: Bryant uttered his slur during the heat of battle and likely would have gotten away with it if a TNT camera had not been focused on him at the very instant that he yelled at Adams; James uttered his slur on live TV in front of an open microphone (James covered his mouth and spoke in a stage whisper, apparently not understanding how modern microphones work) right after a reporter asked Dwyane Wade about the Wade foul that dislocated Rajon Rondo's elbow. There is no defense for either word choice but if the NBA is going to fine players for "insensitive or derogatory comments" then Kevin Garnett would have been broke a long time ago considering how many times he has yelled a word starting with "M" that refers to people having sex with their mothers. Garnett and many other NBA players regularly utter profanities that are easily audible to courtside observers but the only thing that the NBA and its television partners have done in response is institute a several second delay during live telecasts (that is why you sometimes hear dead air when an analyst is commenting about a play that includes courtside audio--a player cussed within earshot of the microphones and the offending words were bleeped out, along with the rest of the live audio during those seconds).

Bryant and James were both wrong (and so are Garnett and the other foul-mouthed players). Commissioner Stern is wrong for having a double standard regarding fines. As for the differing media responses to Bryant and James, this could mean that there are more homosexual writers than there are mentally challenged writers (insert your own punchline, because I am not touching that one), that the homosexual community has more powerful lobbyists/media advocates than the mentally challenged community does or that certain media outlets are much more interested in a negative Bryant story than a negative James story. I would like to see consistency and fairness. If Commissioner Stern has decided to target "insensitive or derogatory comments" then I am sure that he can institute a policy to get rid of such remarks just like he instituted a game day dress code; media members who consider social commentary to be a central part of their beat should be consistent in how they cover the utterances of star players: as I indicated, neither of these stories fits into what I cover here--but I have always had a keen interest in media bias, so the vastly differing responses to the unfortunate word choices made by Bryant and James is a natural subject for me to address in this forum.

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posted by David Friedman @ 10:22 PM

6 comments

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6 Comments:

At Tuesday, May 17, 2011 10:52:00 AM, Anonymous Karc said...

I think the fine on Kobe Byrant was due to the fact that his obscenity was targeted at an official. David Stern has been very adamant about protecting the referees (as he should considering the abuse the get from both the players and the media), often fining $35K just for someone questioning a call after the game.

I'm not condoning what LeBron James said, it was also wrong, but that was more against the media. It wasn't particularly offensive to the NBA, just the reporter, and I think that's why he's has not been fined. James was fined last year for bailing on the press conference after the Game 6 loss to Boston, because the league mandated that he be there and he chose not to be. Now if he said that the reason he didn't want to go was because it was "retarded," then I can see him paying a fine similar to what Bryant paid, because he was saying something offensive to the league.

Now that I think about it, was Tim Duncan ever fined when he called the game day dress code "retarded?" It's a touchy subject, it's good to have the players speak their minds, but there has to be a level of control. I think this is ok for the players to say what they want, just don't point it at the boss.

 
At Tuesday, May 17, 2011 10:59:00 AM, Anonymous boyer said...

I was hoping to see an article similar to this from somebody, and was thinking the exact same thing since both incidents occurred within a few days of each other involving the 2 most popular ballers today. I waited a day or 2to see if lebron would get a fine, and I'm not really surprised he didn't, and have since kind of forgotten about either incident. I would guess that almost every NBA player would get fined or should get fined if Kobe is getting fined or what he said.

The interesting thing is that Kobe said it in the heat of the game, and lebron is saying it in front of the microphone, after the game.

This is the same thing I tell my friends, whatever your opinion of Kobe is, I don't really care, but treat him the same as everyone else. For some reason, Kobe gets the double standard for everything he does, and so many media members target him negatively.

I just don't understand Stern anymore. I used to like him, but he's doing an awful job lately. I don't understand how so many teams could be losing money. I hope you write an article soon about this CBA thing, and what is actually happening, because the players and the owners seem to have severely differing opinions and supposed facts on matters.

 
At Tuesday, May 17, 2011 4:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Karc:

You may be correct about Commissioner Stern's reasoning in these two cases but I still think that this represents a double standard; if the league is going to police speech--which is a bit of a slippery slope anyway--then it should be as consistent as possible in its approach and comments made during live press conferences clearly should be just as subject to punishment as comments made during games.

 
At Tuesday, May 17, 2011 4:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

I was just waiting to see if LeBron would be fined. This is not the kind of story that I typically write but when Kobe got fined and LeBron did not get fined it piqued my interest--not because of who got fined and who did not get fined but rather because there clearly seems to be a double standard.

The problem with writing about "what is actually happening" with the CBA is that only the owners really know; the complete financial data is not publicly available. Long story short, the owners feel like the players received too generous a share of the revenues in the current CBA and the owners want to change that in the next CBA; understandably, the players do not want to "give back" any concessions that they won in previous bargaining. Perhaps an even bigger issue is whether or not the league will enact some kind of franchise player tag to discourage/prevent future situations like LeBron's "Decision" and the way that Carmelo and DWill basically forced their way out of Denver and Utah respectively. The players are dead set against any kind of franchise player tag and I predict that the showdown on that issue will lead to a long work stoppage before one side or the other blinks.

 
At Tuesday, May 17, 2011 9:00:00 PM, Anonymous Stephen said...

I feel like this a social double standard and not necessarily an NBA double standard. Though that doesn't excuse them. We have the perfect example of this in the music industry with Lady Gaga (probably the only good thing about her).

People have called out her song "Born This Way" (something of a gay pride anthem) for being essentially a ripoff of Madonna's "Express Yourself." She's called these allegations "retarded."

Yet, ironically, the mainstream media hasn't been in any kind of uproar over this contradiction. You can bet if she used a word like "gay" in a pejorative sense she'd be blasted by the media.

 
At Monday, May 23, 2011 4:45:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

If Noah doesn't get fined $100,000, we know for sure that the league is just out to get Kobe.

We can rationalize and justify all we want, but at the end of the day it seems obvious that Kobe is being picked on. It's very sad to see that David Stern hasn't outgrown his adolescent days and resorts to schoolyard bullying whenever he feels like it.

One of these days Stern will get the punishment that he is due, but that might be a long time in coming.

 

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