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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.

On Sunday, May 22, basketball fans witnessed yet another instance of anti-gay language and offensive slurs in a match up between the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat. Joakim Noah, the Bulls’ forward/center, spat an unmentionable phrase directed at a Miami fan while riding the bench after his second foul in the first quarter. Noah was issued a $50,000 fine and quickly apologized for his comment the following day, even though he slightly placed blame by explaining that he was provoked by said Miami fan.


Only one short month before, Kobe Bryant found himself in a similar situation. The Los Angeles all-star shouted the same gay slur at a referee after being called on a technical foul, received a $100,000 fine from the NBA commissioner, and publicly apologized for his poor decision making. Bryant also credited his offensive comment to being caught up in the heat of the moment, provoked by frustration.

It’s been made crystal clear that these are not two isolated examples of rare homophobia, but a commonplace attitude of super masculine culture in professional sports. The two incidents that occurred in the past month speak to the glorified idea of macho, traditional male culture among American men that is especially highlighted within the realm of professional athletics. Noah and Bryant aren’t exceptions to the rule; they’re just a couple of guys out of an entire league of players who were caught on camera.

There is a strong need to eliminate this incredibly offensive and dysfunctional means of perpetuating patriarchy and encouraging this general tough-guy, anti-gay attitude in sports. With NBA season coming to a close, now is a better time than ever to teach players, coaches, and fans a lesson in fairness and equality.

It seems as if the most effective tactic thus far has been to simply catch players on camera. Spotlighting these incidents publicly and in the mainstream media puts a significant amount of pressure on athletes to be aware of their word choice and make more conscious decisions regarding these incredibly offensive comments. It also allows for the opportunity for these players to acknowledge the importance of their words and a newfound commitment to sexual equality. The media is an extremely powerful and influential tool that can be instrumental in this movement to be rid of homophobia in sports culture.

Normalizing the idea of a pro-gay environment in the NBA is another critical step in the right direction. Bryant’s April 13th episode ended up sparking an important conversation around the idea of homophobia and gay culture in professional basketball. Rick Welts, Phoenix Suns president and CEO, former president of the L.A. Dodgers, and co-creator of both the WNBA and NBA All-star weekend, admitted in a New York Times article on Sunday, May 16th that he, too, is gay. Welts’ intentions were to “break down one of the last significant social barriers in sports.” More players should also follow in the footsteps of athletes like Grant Hill and Jared Dudley by participating in the “Think Before You Speak” campaign. Steve Nash recently demonstrated the benefits of getting involved with organizations like the Human Rights Campaign through his public service announcement advocating for gay marriage and sexual equality. These are only a few out of many resourceful means for athletes to spread awareness and educate themselves.

Individual change is important for achieving authentic progress, but it is just as essential to systematically enforce the concept of punishment associated with this type of language and harmful discrimination. Money certainly talks, and one of the best ways to garner support and understanding from players like Bryant and Noah is to eject a lump of cash from their paychecks. While some have argued that this means of punishment may not be all that effective for a multi-millionaire like superstar Kobe Bryant, the majority of professional basketball players are not on his same financial level, and would therefore be more likely to understand the significance of their actions when in the position of paying upward to $50,000 per offensive comment. Fines have the potential to get the point across to players, but there also needs to be innovative rule and guideline transformation in the consequences following gay slurs.

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