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So Let's Talk About Gay People and Slurs and the NBA

As you can tell by the headline, this story has nothing to do with Iowa sports, but it does have to do with a very contentious topic. As usual, we'll avoid the strictly political aspects of the issue; instead, we're operating under the following thesis: there should be fewer instances of homophobic insults in sports these days. If it is your contention that there should be more, well, clearly BHGP has never been the correct place for you to be. Hawkeye stuff coming later today, promise. --AJ

So this happened on Sunday:

And it comes on the heels of Kobe Bryant doing basically the same thing, and the NBA forcing the Lakers to run an anti-bullying promotion. It also comes on the heels of Phoenix Suns president Rick Welts coming out, and this advertisement that ran on national television, which I'd like to talk about further.

Now, insofar as this is a good-faith effort to raise awareness of the use of "gay" as an insult and discourage it, I appreciate this ad. It's better than the minimal effort the league has put forth on this issue in the past. It's, y'know, something.

That being said, I don't think it's going to do a damn bit of good in the long run--not by itself.

For one, the message isn't going to resonate with kids. Setting aside the fact that Grant Hill isn't a superstar anymore (nice guy, but he ain't LeBron), the big mistake here is telling kids that saying "gay" as an insult is "not cool." You know what else isn't cool? The phrase "not cool." It might as well be a mute button in a teenager's head.

Moreover, despite what the commercial would have you believe, the issue here wasn't someone calling someone else "gay" during a moment of boastful exuberance. It wasn't even the word "gay." Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah, on separate occasions, got pissed off at someone and called them a "faggot." Kobe said "fucking faggot, and Joakim said "fuck you, faggot." Essentially the same thing. But back to the point, we're not talking about "gay." Not even "fucking gay." They were using the worst words they could think of in order to appropriately express their anger, and they settled on "fuck" and "faggot." Both strong choices, if the goal is to upset the target. But still, the underlying sentiment is the same here: gay = problem. That's a viewpoint that isn't going to be moved one iota by some 30-second commercial that glosses over the severity of the issue.

And look, I don't expect Grant Hill or Jared Dudley or whoever to go on national TV and say "don't say 'faggot' anymore you motherfuckers!"--even though it would be truly sensational TV and you know it--but there does need to be a little more brutal honesty about what's going on. Get a player on TV and have him say "Don't call someone "gay" as an insult. There are also worse words like that, that I can't even say on television, and I bet you know what they are, and I'd better not hear them from you either."  Introduce some level of consequence, too. You think some punk kid's going to give a shit if Jared Dudley disapproves of his language or not? Get a player on there that kids identify with (LeBron, say). Have him not only say he doesn't tolerate that type of talk from his crew, and he won't tolerate it from you either, like with Hill and Dudley, but skip the Beastie Boys track to go with it and the other slick TV stuff. Just a camera and Influential Player X laying down the law. Of course, it would probably help if he meant it, otherwise we're not really solving any problems here, are we?

Or what about an entire team publicly stating that gay people are welcome in their locker room and on their team, as long as they can play? It can't seriously be impossible for an organization to state that the only thing that matters in its locker room is how well you play ball, right? 

But look, this is going to keep being an issue as long as athletes at all levels are allowed to operate under the assumption that everybody else in the locker room is also straight, and that gay people are an absent "other," i.e. it's open season on them. They're allowed to operate under that assumption not because there are no gay athletes in the Big 4 Sports--good heavens, are there many--but because there are no openly gay athletes. I get why it happens; an athlete's primary responsibility is to his teammates, and as soon as he hears one crack a gay joke or call someone a "fucking faggot," he knows there's going to be a real issue if he comes out. He also knows that everything he does wrong will reflect on gay people as a whole, which is just all sorts of fair. It's not the worst thing you can do as an athlete, but it's probably pretty far up there. So the thinking goes, anyway.

That's why the Sean Avery announcement was so powerful, though. He takes the fight to those with intolerant behavior, saying that if anyone wants to come out, he'll stand right by them in the locker room and make sure they're welcomed as who they are. Intolerance is a mean-spirited choice, after all, and gay isn't. That's the way you effect change. It'd be nice if someone in the NBA (LeBron--and if it sounds like I'm singling him out or suggesting he has a duty to do any of this, he doesn't--he's just a really good example of a cultural difference-maker) made a similarly aggressive entreaty to other gay players in their sport and started truly altering the landscape. That won't be easy or comfortable, but tearing down a culture that aggressively breeds inequality is never easy or comfortable, otherwise there'd be no such thing as inequality.

But life isn't a Beatles song, nor is it a 30-second commercial about what Grant Hill thinks is or isn't cool. I'm proud that Hill made that commercial, don't get me wrong, but it's time for someone to be a goddamn adult, step up even further and out of their comfort zone, and take a hard stance that this idiocy has to stop. It's 2011, for crying out loud. Let's get our shit together and worry about things that matter. 

That all said, a big thanks to the BHGP community for conducting itself in a responsible fashion when it comes to how we treat gay people. I'd like to think it applies to the Hawkeye fan community as a whole--even though deep down inside I think I know better--but even if it doesn't, it's still something for you all to be proud of.