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The Mavs Snagged Their First Title. Now Can We Concentrate on Eliminating Homophobia in the NBA?

NBA season's over. There's no better time to examine the spate of recent incidents speak to the larger macho culture of the sport.

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Paul Newberry of the Associated Press aggressively suggests in his May 23rd commentary that the NBA should take even stronger measures in an effort to eliminate homophobic slurs. “Remember when the NBA could’ve stood for National Brawling Association? That sort of ugliness doesn’t happen anymore, because now players know they’ll be suspended for leaving the bench. There should be suspensions for words as well as punches.” The dramatic shift in game rules surrounding suspensions is necessary in order to systematically affect the traditional male culture that encourages a slew of heteronormative characteristics, as opposed to all inclusive traits that represent and benefit all men of all sexualities.

The difference between a healthy and toxic masculinity in sports is complicated by the fact that sports is considered male to begin with. The lack of feminine nature in professional athletics is indicative of the dominant patriarchal culture, and breeds a masculinity that solely associates with this “real man” and tough guy image. Jackson Katz, educator and expert on male culture, discusses ideas and solutions to the issue of traditional masculinity in his documentary Tough Guise. Katz states, “It will take a different kind of courage to break out of the role of tough guy posturing men are pressured into so that society can keep making progress. Courage must be seen as the act of resisting taking on the tough-guy pose, and change will be difficult because violent masculinity is a cultural norm in America and tied to social, political and institutional institutions.”

What a toxic sports culture looks like: gay slurs being used as defense mechanisms and outlets for anger. What a healthy sports culture should exude: promoting a spectrum of equality and acceptance across the board, and reexamining what it really means to “be a man” and obtain these masculine qualities.

It’s past time to make the usage of anti-gay slurs during fits of anger and frustration a part of the NBA’s history instead of a current event. These critical changes need to come from a series of perspectives, starting with pressure from affected fans and the media, and ending with institutional changes within the NBA’s logistical structure. The league’s commissioner, David Stern, has a serious problem on his hands; he needs to make sure that the right steps are taken to ensure a safer, more accepting environment for people of all sexualities.

Joakim Noah and Kobe Bryant may have potentially learned their lessons; only time will tell, however, if their consequences produced a serious change in their careful thought around word choice or if they led to only a quick fix. A heightened sense of awareness, as well as slapping on a few fines here and there, will help bring attention to the issue of extensive homophobia in the NBA. In order to seriously affect how professional athletes interpret this anti-gay culture, there needs to be a push beyond an individual level.

While a surge of unflattering press accompanied with a hefty fine might make a difference to individual players like Noah, someone like Kobe Bryant -- who is accustomed to bad press and has the luxury of throwing around $100,000 -- might not be forever changed. It’s important to complicate how these players think about the ways in which sexual oppression and patriarchy shape basketball culture on an individual level, as well as on a grand scale. The only means of getting players to take the issue seriously is by systematically acting seriously.

 
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