Kobe’s foul mouth: A fitting punishment?

League commissioner David Stern fined Kobe Bryant $100,000 for an anti-gay insult directed at a referee.

Kobe Bryant’s anti-gay slur and the fallout from it only prove that homophobia is alive and well in the NBA, said William C. Rhoden in The New York Times. In a fit of anger after being called for a technical foul, the L.A. Lakers star charged the bench, slammed a chair, and spat an obscene insult at referee Bennie Adams—a double F-bomb that was caught on national television. The Human Rights Campaign protested, Bryant issued an “obligatory, soulless apology,” and league commissioner David Stern fined him $100,000, a mere 0.4 percent of his $24.8 million annual salary. The fine is meaningless to someone at his pay scale, a “symbolic gesture,” though Bryant vowed to appeal it anyway. The whole episode, said Daniel Wood in The Christian Science Monitor, reveals one of the “insidious elements of pro sports culture,” which has shown a stubborn resistance to the acceptance of homosexuality.

This is nothing more than political correctness on a fast break, said David Whitley in AOL.SportingNews.com. “Would Bryant have gotten off easier if he’d slurred a different group?” Probably. Was he treated more harshly than a player of middling talents? Yes. In the past 10 years, only seven NBA players have been fined for using obscene language on the court, and no penalty was as steep as Bryant’s. In 1997, Dennis Rodman appended the F-word to an insult directed at the entire Mormon community and walked away with a measly $50,000 fine. By the NBA’s own wobbly standards, “Bryant’s penalty was excessive.”

It’s not about the money, said Jill Painter in the Los Angeles Daily News. Like it or not, Kobe Bryant is a role model, and he should get busy undoing “some of the damage” his outburst created. His empty apologies show that he still doesn’t realize that he has hurt people and disappointed many fans. When Bryant hurls an anti-gay insult—even in the heat of a game—he gives permission to impressionable young people everywhere to use these words to taunt and “make life unbearable” for kids who are different. It’s true, “this language has no place on an NBA court,” said Andy Kamenetzky in ESPN.com. But Bryant has acknowledged this and says he will speak to gay-rights groups if he’s asked. Let’s not forget that “a lapse in sensitivity doesn’t make someone a hateful element of society.” Even rich sports stars are capable of redemption.

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