You are an amazing athlete. You get paid a lot of money to play basketball and endorse sports shoes. You get lots of media attention. People watch what you do and listen to what you have to say. People wear your jersey and root for you. Many of these people are young and they look up to you.
Whether you like it or not, some realities come with the privileges you have as a wealthy marquee sports star. One of them is that you are a role model whether you like it or not. You can choose to be a good one or a bad one, either way young people take note of what you do and many want to emulate you.
That is why it is so painful for those of us who are working to make sports, schools and society safer and more respectful places for everyone, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to watch you use your celebrity platform to send such a careless and dangerous message to your young fans. Using anti-LGBT slurs is never excusable. I don’t care how mad you were at that referee. It doesn’t make any difference that it was “in the heat of the moment” or that you issued the standard non-apology afterwards. There is simply no excuse for what you said.
A mother of a 14 year old boy who is one of those young people I mentioned who look up to you said this about your nationally televised slur: Thanks, Kobe (with loads of sarcasm), I’ve worked for two years to get my son to stop using anti-gay slurs and you, in one thoughtless explosion of temper, undid it all. He thinks if Kobe uses this language, it must be ok.
Kobe, you do not get a free pass on this. It’s a good thing that the NBA fined you $100,000, but that’s like telling most of us we have to forfeit our morning coffee for two days. Instead of appealing the fine as you apparently plan to do, why don’t you show us that you really have learned something from this. Why don’t you show us in a meaningful way that that you really are sorry and understand how dangerous the words you used are?
In the last year at least 10 young people have killed themselves because classmates tormented them with ant-LGBT slurs and those are only the ones we know about. Words matter, Kobe. As a young African-American man in America, you should know this. Where do you think young people learn that it is ok to hurl these cruel and dangerous words with the intent to hurt and humiliate: From people like you, dude. What. You. Say. Matters. Think before you speak; especially when you are in the “heat of the moment.”
Ironically on the same day you were having your little homophobic hissy fit, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network was filming a PSA in conjunction with the NBA to discourage young people from using anti-LGBT slurs. Grant Hill is featured in the PSA. Grant Hill is a star athlete who understands that he is a role model and uses his celebrity status in a positive way to send a different message to young people. We need a lot more highly visible athletes like Grant Hill to step up. We can only hope that the PSA Grant is making with GLSEN attracts as much positive attention as the negative attention your comments have.
So, in conclusion, Kobe. Save your phony apology. Forego the ritualized meeting with the head of some LGBT rights organization who bestows “official” forgiveness on you. I don’t give a rat’s ass about these “performances.” The only thing that speaks to me is if you did something that really makes a difference. Donate your time, as Grant Hill has, or donate some of your fortune to support organizations that work to undo the damage your carelessness causes. Be a different kind of role model: One that stands for respect and inclusion. Young people are looking to you. Don’t let them down.