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