In April 2011, Kobe Bryant turned a bad game into a terrible week when he yelled “f**king f*gg*t” at an NBA referee after a technical foul call.
As we saw with Chris Culliver before the Super Bowl, Bryant was appropriately shamed in the media and on the blogs for his gay slur. At the time, we said that now that’s he paid his $100,000 fine, let’s stop calling for his blood and see instead if he learns something.
Let’s see which way this episode takes him before we continue to call for his blood. Instead, perhaps, we should hail this moment as progress. An athlete used an unusable slur and actually faced punishment for it. Nothing got swept under the rug, and nobody made apologies for him but himself.
If anything, while there’s no more arbitrary phrase than “teachable moment,” this episode tells other athletes that their words will be used against them, and it tells kids in and out of sports that people out there will stand up for them, even when an NBA superstar is standing on the other side.
The negative part of this chapter is closed. Now’s the time to work with Bryant, work with the Lakers, work with the NBA to use this moment to shape future actions. The ugly part’s over.
Bryant did take something positive from this episode. On Sunday night, Kobe beefed with some folks on Twitter, letting them know that it’s not acceptable to use the grammatically challenged “your gay” as an appropriate dis.
Attaboy, Kobe. This is what progress looks like. This is what society at large “getting better” looks like. While it’s great that we have watchdogs who call fouls on anti-gay remarks, it’s even better that those watchdogs don’t merely shout; they instruct, they educate, they turn enemies into allies.
Progress comes in all forms. We’ve seen more and more states allow same-sex couples to marry (almost halfway there to the number of states that allow cousins to wed!) We’ve seen a high schooler receive a standing ovation for courageously coming out in front of his school. We’ve seen a West Point cadet and his boyfriend attending a winter formal weekend in the snow. We’ve seen more people rally the cause of the LGBT community than echo the sentiments of Chris Culliver’s his anti-gay comments.
And before you know it, we’ll eventually see a high-profile gay professional athlete carry the rainbow banner in the locker room. Frank Ocean received a standing ovation at the Grammy Awards — that same fate awaits the first guy to come out in the last bastion of acceptable homophobia.
It really is getting better. Kobe Bryant’s tweet is proof of that.