Seriously, folks, I want to put my basketball blogs in the Disney vault, but since it’s the only thing I find worth watching, I kind of have to continue writing about the sport. Go with what I know. Last week, Kobe Bryant got into all kinds of trouble for spazzing the bleep out at a referee after a call went against him. Bryant received a technical foul for arguing with the official–NBA don’t play that–but since he’s a brat and a superstar he wasn’t tossed from the game for violently, angrily heading to the bench, hitting his chair and a teammate, and throwing his towel.
Perhaps if the refs had tossed him from the game like they should have, the cameras wouldn’t have caught Bryant calling the referee a “fucking faggot.” As always, here’s the video:
Uh-oh. Bryant said sorry:
“What I said last night should not be taken literally [but, um, figuratively? What's a figurative faggot?]. My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period,” Bryant said in a statement issued through the Lakers on Wednesday. “The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone [except for that p***-*** referee].”
Now maybe it’s because I like to eat Chick-fil-A and bought some stuff from Target even after it was exposed that the latter corporation was funding anti-gay politicians, but I don’t really think that such language indicates that Bryant is a homophobe. Nor do I think Bryant needs to make any “saying faggot is bad” public service announcements. I do think Bryant spoke the words out of frustration, and accessed a lexicon that would disrespect the referee. This, although in ways inextricably linked, had less to do with Bryant’s opinion of gay people and more to do with undercutting the ref’s masculinity. Because, you know, even though they walk around the locker room naked and hit one another on the butt, athletes are so manly. And manly dudes aren’t gay.
All of that to say although it is technically GLAAD’s et. al. job to issue statements and furrow its brow at Bryant and pull out the dry-erase board to compose a strategy to combat these kinds of outbursts, the strategy seems, well, played. And what ends up happening is pundits on ESPN debate whether or not Bryant is a homophobe in his heart (their words, not mine), and the latest campaign to eliminate words from our epithet vocabularies. (And if that happens, what is Bryant supposed to call the ref? A fucking bitch? Soooooo much less alliterative than the original.)
In my estimation, these kinds of politically correct efforts never really solve the problem. Rather, we end up with genius solutions like “let’s replace the word faggot with slave.“ Instead, perhaps one might consider the way in which larger, more systemic constructions of masculinity influence the use of such terms in these instances. Because, frankly, even if the camera doesn’t catch Bryant, I’m pretty sure that the next school day some little boy was bullied for being effeminate. And the perpetrators got the signal that such acerbic chastisement was all right from a myriad of cultural sources and not only–or even–from the basketball court.
The basketball court reflects society at large. New versions of masculinity do not appear in that arena. I’m not absolving Bryant, but fining him 100 large and getting him to issue an apology does not disrupt the rather constricted notion of masculinity that dominates our visions of who or what men should be. Interpreting Kobe’s words as not simply “you’re gay (and that’s bad),” but rather “you’re not a man,” lends itself to a larger conversation that inevitably addresses not only homosexuality, but sexuality in general. Or we could simply just tell people to stop saying faggot because it’s bad. Yeah, let’s do that. It’s a lot easier.