Joakim Noah, the NBA and the 'New F Bomb'

On Monday, while Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah was being fined for using a homophobic slur against a fan, a commercial for LGBT marriage rights was released featuring Suns All-Star Steve Nash. Last month, the same day Kobe Bryant was caught on camera using the same invective against a referee, Phoenix Suns players Grant Hill and Jared Dudley were filming a public service announcement where they spoke out against using the word “gay” to mean stupid, dumb, or worthy of disrespect. Last month, when Suns executive Rick Welts became the highest ranking executive to ever come out of the closet, sports radio needed the vapors to recover. When the most famous Phoenix Sun ever, Charles Barkley spoke at length in support of Welts, the media obsessed over his comments that he had gay teammates. Ignored was when he said, “It bothers me when I hear these reporters and jocks get on TV and say: ‘Oh, no guy can come out in a team sport. These guys would go crazy.’ First of all, quit telling me what I think. I’d rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can’t play.”

 

There are two conclusions we can draw from this unprecedented recent collision between the National Basketball Association and the politics of LGBT rights. The first is that the Phoenix Suns organization must be the most gay-friendly workplace on earth: an absolute Shangri-La of rainbows and good vibes. The other conclusion is that while homophobic outbursts are still very much a part of the vocabulary of professional sports, more and more players are saying this is not acceptable. It was beautifully bracing to hear ESPN announcer Mark Jackson sounding legitimately upset during the Oklahoma City Thunder/Dallas Mavericks playoff game on Monday when he heard that Noah’s fine was $50,000, only half of Kobe Bryant’s fine. “That is a human being [Noah] said that to. You don’t speak that way to another human being. Why the double standard?” When told that Noah was being taunted in awful terms by the fan, Jackson said, “Then throw the fan out of the building. Don’t have it come to this.”

 

The fact that it’s Joakim Noah, of all players, who was caught on camera is in and of itself illustrative. Noah is someone who spoke out against the war in Iraq. He's called for college players to be paid by the NCAA. He put his name to a statement in defense of the Jena 6—African-American teenagers facing decades in prison for a schoolyard fight. I met Joakim Noah and he came across as one of the good guys: a true Jock for Justice. If he would drop an “f-bomb” in the heat of a game, it really says something about how ingrained it is in the language of pro-competition.

 

But history shows that change will come. I recently had the privilege to screen Peter Miller’s documentary Jews and Baseball. The film documents the use of anti-Semitic language against Jewish players in the early decades of the game. It was an all-purpose insult thrown at everyone from hall of famer Hank Greenberg to bench guys. But Jewish players challenged fans and opponents, sometimes with their fists, until it was no longer a part of the conversation. The same story can be told about Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente and every player of color who had to hear insults in the heat of athletic battle until a combination of movements in the streets and the attendant political confidence of players made it a memory. Fast–forward to today: we have visible struggles for LGBT rights. Hell, Focus on the Family, just announced that it was throwing in the towel on fighting LGBT marriage saying they’d lost the generation under 30.

 

It would certainly help in sports if players came out of the closet, and it was not left to straight-supporters like Nash, Hill and company. But one thing is certain: the league can and needs to do much more than just levy fines on players who happen to be caught speaking slurs on camera. NBA Commissioner David Stern, who is a political liberal and a long-time friend of Rick Welts, said of gay rights. "I don't want to become a social crusader on this issue." No kidding. We don't need to see David Stern wave the rainbow flag. And honestly if it didn’t have a swoosh on it, I don’t think he ever would. But the Commissioner could make discussion of homophobia part of every rookie orientation. I’ve been to the NBA’s rookie symposiums and everything is discussed from dealing with women on the road to how to balance your checkbook. How about a discussion that language like that used by Noah and Bryant won’t be tolerated any longer? How about statements from the NBA that if any rookies in the room happen to be gay, the NBA will stand as a workplace where their sexuality won’t only be “tolerated” but embraced? The NBA clearly sees homophobia isn’t good business. But for LGBT fans, writers, players and their families and friends, this isn’t business. It’s personal.

 

[Dave Zirin is the author of “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) and just made the new documentary “Not Just a Game.” Receive his column every week by emailing dave@edgeofsports.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.]

10 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Dan Savage on black homophobia

Comrade Zirin is not a serious writer. He is a politically-correct faux radical.

Zirin claims surprise that an otherwise liberal black basketball player would be homophobic.

Zirin excuses Noah's homophobia by blaming it on . . . basketball! This is an insult to black basketball players like Charles Barkley and Grant Hill, who have taken positive stands against homophobia.

Zirin writes: "If he would drop an “f-bomb” in the heat of a game, it really says something about how ingrained it is in the language of pro-competition."

Although Zirin will never say this, it might say something about how ingrained homophobia is among many African-Americans.

As Dan Savage wrote in 2008:

"African American voters in California voted overwhelmingly for Prop 8, writing anti-gay discrimination into California’s constitution and banning same-sex marriage in that state. Seventy percent of African American voters approved Prop 8, according to exit polls, compared to 53% of Latino voters, 49% of white voters, 49% of Asian voters.

I’m not sure what to do with this. I’m thrilled that we’ve just elected our first African-American president. I wept last night. I wept reading the papers this morning. But I can’t help but feeling hurt that the love and support aren’t mutual.

I do know this, though: I’m done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out there—and they’re out there, and I think they’re scum—are a bigger problem for African Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for gay Americans, whatever their color."

Feeble gust of wind

Torando loves Joplin Missouri. Why Tornado? Why?


DZ doesn't excuse he simply points out how ingrained the vocabulary is within our society. That even an (on all accounts) free thinking man such as Noah would drop it. But since you're DZ's personal Stan it makes sense you wouldn't get it.

Really who hasn't done what Joakim did in their life? In the heat of a game or argument or whatever? (Speaking of the below 30 generation) It's a word the vast majority has grown up with as part of their language and it's said on a whim without thinking as casually as any other word. Not to excuse it, but that is what it is.

Tornado's Mouth

If I know anything about Dan Savage, after reading your rant, he'd have one thing to say to you Tornado: STFU!!!!

Don't let a good rant get in the way of facts

@ Tornado: How could Joakim Noah's comment reflect on African-American culture in any way, when Noah is not even African-American?

His father is Yannick Noah, the former French tennis star, and his mother is the former Miss Sweden, 1978. Then again, you've never let facts get in the way of a good rant before.

I do actually believe that when

98% of the straight people out there blurt out the F word we are talking about.....they are not thinking about homosexuals. They are thinking about wimps. That's what the word has become for most people that use it.

If you asked them why did you call him a f? They would say because he's a wimp. The problem is they don't logically think about why they associate the f word with wimp. And if they did they would see that at it's root it's implying that homosexuals are weaker than heterosexuals. I think if more thought a bit about the root of the word and what it's implying rather than what they THINK it's implying...less people would use it.

As much as I like Dan Savage and his writing if he really wanted equality he would stop using the f word.

The same holds true for the N word. I love Chris Rock and man he makes the N word funny but really if black people think the word is wrong for white people to say then they should also think it is wrong for them to say. Simple moral equivalence. Anything less is hypocritical.

And excuses like "the word means something different when blacks/Gays than when whites/straights use it..." are just that...excuses. And pathetic ones at that.

Bottom line is it's up to the individual to stop BLAMING everyone else for being overly PC or whatever...and START taking responsibility for what comes out of YOUR OWN MOUTH. What some one else does or says should have NO bearing WHAT SO EVER on what you do or say.

Great Article

Well said and to the point. Its encouraging that behaviour like this is being punished, but worrisome how engrained it remains to be.

Noah's Race

Actually, to correct 'Frenchy's' comment about Jokim's genetic make up, Jokim def has African in him. His Grandfather, Zacharie Noah, was a soccer player from Cameroon who married a French woman. Which is why his father was born there and later married one himself. That Makes Jokim a qtr African. FYI, a person's geographical location has nothing to do with his or her GENETIC make up. Which is exactly why the AFRICAN is said before the American in regards to black people here in the states. If a Mexican is born and raised in India, does that make him Indian? I think not

Compulsory Heterosexuality

I have come to admire and respect DZ's work on race and class in sports and culture, but I'm still baffled by his own blind spots regarding gender and sexuality. His journalism has allowed me to take sports seriously again.

However, with almost every encounter, he takes back what he gives.

Today, I'm catching up on the podcast from 20 May, enjoying the discussion with David Sirota, especially the awareness of the "dickless" insult in GHOSTBUSTERS. Good point. Yet, at the start of the show, DZ mocks Boston Pete for "laughing like a girl." So...again, the coverage is top notch, but the compulsory heterosexuality of the program, especially DZ needs to be examined more closely.

I cannot imagine DZ mocking someone for "acting/laughing like a black man," but it remains okay to mock "girlish" behavior. The examples are numerous, and I hope DZ and the program can address this more in future.

shalom

80's SNL References - Cajun Man Love?

I agree Dave is a bit hard on Boston Pete. Maybe it is a hazing thing. Maybe hes just doing what was done to him, like Pete has to earn his stripes. But for Pete's sake, if anyone talked about my mother and grandmother as much as Dave does about Pete's, then I would have to say something. But thats just me. I will say this, though - No one can touch Dave when it comes to SNL references. But seriously, enough Flibbledy Floo and Sprockets - Im just waiting for some Cajun Man!

jokim's f bomb

I would bet that Jokim has been called gay, and worse, his whole life because he's "different": he doesn't look like a typical black male athlete (long hair, light skin, swedish facial features, different accent, etc). That's why I have found him interesting and followed his career (just like I was interested in his tennis-stereotype-busting father).

How disappointing that Jokim isn't mature/aware enough NOT to do ugly things 'unto others' that have been done to him.

I always thought Jokim is better than that...the truth has set me free from admiring yet another pro athlete.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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