Commentary

Kobe Bryant's lack of civility

Updated: April 14, 2011, 3:56 PM ET
By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com

When I saw the clip, I was going to assume he didn't say it.

And if he said it, I was going to assume he'd issue an apology later.

And if he said it and didn't apologize, then I was going to assume the Lakers or the league would fine him for his transgressions.

But if he did and he didn't and they don't, I hope the media will take them all to task for the offense.

And if we won't, then I hope some of you will at least remember that, in the heat of the moment, with emotions high, Kobe Bryant appears to be referring to his colleague with a homophobic slur on national TV.

And as the day progressed, he released a statement that wasn't an apology, and the NBA fined him $100,000.

[+] EnlargeKobe Bryant
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesKobe Bryant's lack of civility by itself might not amount to much. But it adds to a pile of negativity tied to sports.

How does the quote go: "Basketball doesn't build character, it reveals it"? We already knew what kind of player Kobe was in pressure moments. Now we see a glimpse of the person. Now we see how he really feels about some of the people he works with.

Is he a homophobe?

Probably not.

You try being submerged in mud for 15 years and see whether you come out clean. Slurs such as the one Kobe appeared to drop on TNT on Tuesday night are used as commonly by male athletes in professional sports as some of the "warm and fuzzy" nicknames used to describe women.

But just because there will always be poor people doesn't mean we should stop trying to feed the hungry. Similarly, when an ugly situation arises -- be it not letting a female reporter into the locker room at the Masters or Kobe appearing to drop the other F-bomb while trying to end the Lakers' five-game losing streak -- none of us can really afford to nonchalantly dismiss it.

Not if the goal is to continue functioning as a civilized society.

In the past couple of weeks or so, we've witnessed some incredibly inspirational moments in athletics -- from Anthony Robles, the one-legged wrestler from Arizona State University who won the NCAA championship in his weight class, to VCU's magical run to the Final Four. But we also have seen some incredibly horrible, ugly moments, starting with the unexplainable Opening Day beating of a Giants fan at Dodger Stadium.

"There's no room in this game for hatred and violence. It is about respect," Dodgers shortstop Jamey Carroll said to the crowd in San Francisco before Monday night's game, receiving loud applause.

He's right.

There's no room in baseball for disrespect and uncivil behavior, and there shouldn't be tolerance for disrespect and uncivil behavior in connection with any game. Just last week, a Bulls fan spat at Phoenix's Grant Hill. Grant Hill!! A three-time NBA Sportsman of the Year. What kind of person does that? What kind of environment is germinating in which someone would even think that spitting at someone would be OK?

Naturally, the Kobe flap rekindles the entire "gays in sports" discussion, a topic that has garnered more attention in the past year and has prompted me to become involved with two relatively new organizations, Changing the Game and Athlete Ally. Also, Friday is the National Day of Silence, in which thousands of students across the country vow to stop using slurs such as the one Kobe appears to have said in Wednesday's game.

But it's important to remember that this discussion is really about so much more. It's about the history of our willingness to turn a blind eye to all sorts of inexcusable behavior in our athletes and fans.

Giants/Dodgers
AP Photo/Eric RisbergGiants and Dodgers players asked fans to show respect for their rivals before playing Monday.

The pendulum has swung way past passion, and occasionally actions and words border on barbaric. We wouldn't say the uncivil things we say about one another on the street or in a conference room, but because we're in a stadium, somehow it is now OK. Because we've paid for tickets, we get to treat the athletes and each other like dirt.

If you think Kobe's utterance in frustration was not that big of a deal, I am going to tell you that I agree with you.

It's not.

It's a little deal that lumps in with all the other little deals we let go unchecked because, well, it's sports. Like snowflakes gathering near the top of a mountain, each is harmless -- until there's an avalanche. Instead of the TNT announcers suggesting the cameras cut away from Kobe's tirade, it would have been nice for them to denounce what was being said as unacceptable. It's a slur, not a figure of speech -- end of story.

He said he didn't mean to offend anyone but I've yet to see that word used in that situation as a compliment. My friend Ric Bucher said he's heard the N-word used on court, so punishing Kobe for a slur is a slippery slope. I say if Kevin Love or Steve Nash dropped the N-word on court that slope would dry up in a hurry.

Still, the league sanction was not a complete surprise; I've known for weeks the league had been working with GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) on a series of PSAs on fighting bullying and homophobic slurs. Steve Nash and Hill are among the players featured. Since Kobe vowed to correct his ills, I asked a top NBA offical if Kobe's going to join them and he said it's up to him.

In any case we have Kobe's non-apology, and a fine. But I'm going to hope the rest of us wouldn't need the Lakers, the NBA or the media to point out that what he did was wrong.

After all, sports is supposed to be a part of society, not apart from it.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at lzgranderson@yahoo.com.

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Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine

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