It feels like history is repeating itself. The NBA has once again had to fine one of its players for using a gay slur.
This time, the guilty party was Roy Hibbert. After the Pacers’ dominant Game 6 win over the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, Hibbert dropped a not-so-safe-for-work traditional curse word during the postgame news conference. It hardly had people batting an eye. What viewers did note, though, was Hibbert’s casual use of the homophobic phrase “no homo” after describing a play with Miami’s LeBron James. The phrase is generally used to assert that the speaker doesn’t have any homosexual intent, usually after a statement that may have given that impression.
Hibbert released the requisite apology via the Pacers’ website, saying, “I am apologizing for insensitive remarks made during the postgame press conference after our victory over Miami Saturday night. They were disrespectful and offensive and not a reflection of my personal views. I used a slang term that is not appropriate in any setting, private or public, and the language I used definitely has no place in a public forum, especially over live television.”
While we can hope that Hibbert’s apology came from a sincere place, the damage had already been done. Millions of television viewers heard Hibbert’s words and took to Twitter to voice their displeasure with his choice of words. The Internet was abuzz with talk of the disrespectful nature of Hibbert’s words, and the league took that as its cue to fine Hibbert $75,000 “for using inappropriate and vulgar language.“
That fine, and the public outrage that no doubt played a role in that decision, shows the affect that social media can have on such matters. If not for the flood of negative tweets about the topic, it would have been harder to see that most people found Hibbert’s comments distasteful. Heck, bigwigs over at the NBA might not have even known that “no homo” was an offensive phrase if not for Twitter.
The comment and subsequent backlash also give a look into the change in public opinion on issues of sexuality. Three years ago, Hibbert might have been given a pass.
In fact, he almost certainly would have been given one, considering the fact that James himself actually uttered the same phrase in a postgame news conference, as pointed out by BlackSportsOnline. In 2010, there was no fine doled out to James and no public outcry — on social media, at least. Not as many people were on Twitter back then. Fewer people had smartphones, tablets and other devices that allowed them to be connected 24/7.
In 2011, however, it seems things were starting to change. Kobe Bryant made waves when he yelled a gay slur (the other F-word) at a referee during a game. Bryant was fined $100,000 for his remarks and has since been pretty outspoken as an advocate for acceptance, publicly supporting Jason Collins and even calling out a fan for anti-gay language on Twitter.
Well, in 2013 it seems that language will not be tolerated by the NBA or by the majority of the public. Even though the phrase is “slang,” its inherent association of “gay” with “bad” should cause people to pause before using it.
At the end of the day, what it comes down to is that athletes need to think before they speak — even if it’s off-the-cuff. If they don’t, someone will be sure to record, tweet and publish those comments and let social media run its course on the topic — and that rarely turns out well.