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