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.
posted by David Friedman @ 10:22 PM