Another gay slur shows sports still has ways to go

Enough with the excuses.

Let’s no longer cut any slack to an athlete who blurts out
hateful, hurtful words about gays, even if they are really just
upset with the refs or egged on by some moronic fan. Let’s no
longer tolerate those who think it’s OK to throw around homophobic
banter in a testosterone-fueled locker room, that no harm is
intended when male athletes jokingly call out someone’s sexual
preference.

It’s not acceptable anywhere, at any time, under any
circumstances.

Got it?

It’s time to deliver a stronger edict to every basketball,
baseball, football and hockey player: If you insist on using the
”f” word, no matter the provocation, you’ll be assured of
watching at least a game or two from the comfort of your hopefully
soundproof living room. That way, at least, you can scream whatever
you want and the rest of us don’t have to hear it.

The NBA has taken strong steps to stamp out anti-gay attitudes,
but it dropped the ball twice on Monday. Joakim Noah of the Chicago
Bulls was fined $50,000 for spitting out that most hateful of gay
slurs while going at it with a heckler during a playoff game in
Miami.

Not enough, and the league looked even worse when it said Kobe
Bryant was fined twice as much last month for a similar offense
because he used it during a dispute with a referee.

Huh? That word is offensive, no matter the company.

The league would have been better served taking a page … from
itself.

Remember when the NBA could’ve stood for National Brawling
Association? That sort of ugliness doesn’t happen anymore, because
now players know they’ll be suspended for leaving the bench.

There should be suspensions for words as well as punches, and
not just in the NBA.

”It isn’t OK to say it was unintentional,” said Jarrett
Barrios, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against
Defamation (GLAAD). ”Players cannot use this language, just like
they can’t and don’t use language about race and religion to show
their frustration with a player, fan or referee. It’s not OK. It’s
never OK.”

You use it, you sit – without pay.

That goes for you, Kobe. Sure, you apologized, paid a $100,000
fine and even taped a public-service announcement after using that
awful word to show your frustration over a referee’s call.

Next time, you’re out for a while.

Just imagine the impact if the NBA had ordered Noah to take
Tuesday night off with the top-seeded Bulls trying to even their
Eastern Conference final against the Heat. The emotional center
acknowledged saying ”something” in Game 3, but it didn’t take a
lip reader to figure out what he was jabbering just as the camera
focused in on him.

”I got caught up,” Noah said. ”I don’t mean no disrespect to
anybody.”

Not good enough. That doesn’t account for all those kids sitting
in the immediate vicinity or watching on television, who want to
grow up to be just like Bryant or Noah and have likely concluded
that sort of language is perfectly acceptable when you’re going
mano-y-mano.

”The apology is appreciated,” Barrios said. ”But the damage
is done.”

These are interesting times for those who have fought for
homosexuals to be treated equally in that ultimate man-cave:
Big-time team sports in the United States.

Phoenix Suns president and chief executive officer Rick Welts
felt comfortable enough to reveal that he’s gay. Then again, we’ve
had not only the outbursts from Bryant and Noah, but an ugly,
homophobic rant by Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell
before a game in San Francisco, of all places. And don’t forget New
York Rangers forward Sean Avery, coming under fire from a prominent
hockey agent after he took part in a video supporting same-sex
marriage.

Barrios insists ”the tide is turning.” He points to the swift
sanctions against Bryant and Noah, and Major League Baseball coming
down even harder on McDowell, who got a two-week suspension and
some much-needed sensitivity training (A caveat: He’s not a player
and his penalty was undoubtedly harsher because he allegedly
threatened a fan, as well).

But the tide hasn’t turned enough for someone to take that
boldest of steps.

There’s no indication a prominent male athlete in one of the
four major team sports is willing to come out while still in
uniform. Surely, the words of Bryant and McDowell and Noah would
give pause to anyone considering it.

”It would be a career-ender for someone in male professional
sports to come out as gay,” said Lori Brown, an associate
professor of sociology at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C.
”Having a pro football player come out would be the most helpful
because that is the ultimate masculine sport, and if anyone thinks
there aren’t gay football players, well, that is simply not
true.”

Welts knows the attention he received for saying he’s gay would
be dwarfed by an active player doing the same thing. It will likely
take someone at the top of his game, along with impeccable
character and the thickest of skin. A modern-day Jackie Robinson,
in other words, and those guys don’t come around too often.

”They don’t have anybody who’s gone before them to know how
that will actually play out,” Welts said. ”So more than anything
it’s the fear of the unknown, of not knowing.”

In the meantime, the fight goes on to change the hearts and
minds of this masculine-dominated world. Hefty fines and lengthy
suspensions can make people behave in public, but there’s no
guarantee they’ll modify their attitudes. That will be helped along
by players such as Grant Hill and Steve Nash, who’ve expressed
their support for gay rights. Hopefully, those two and many others
– in all sports – will use their influence in the privacy of the
locker room, where anti-gay chatter is still commonplace.

”While we may be waiting for an athlete to come out, we’re not
waiting for the world to change,” Barrios said. ”It’s changing
right before our eyes.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re straight or gay.

We’re not taking the homophobic slurs anymore.

Got it?

AP National Writer Paul Newberry can be reached at
pnewberry(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/pnewberry1963