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Saturday, April 16, 2011

John Amaechi, a former NBA player who revealed he was gay in 2007 speaks out regarding Kobe Bryant


When someone with the status of Kobe Bryant, arguably the best basketball player in a generation, hurls that antigay slur at a referee or anyone else — let’s call it the F-word — he is telling boys, men and anyone watching that when you are frustrated, when you are as angry as can be, the best way to demean and denigrate a person, even one in a position of power, is to make it clear that you think he is not a real man, but something less.
Many people balk when L.G.B.T. people, even black ones, suggest that the power and vitriol behind another awful slur — the N-word — is no different from the word used by Kobe. I make no attempt at an analogy between the historical civil rights struggle for blacks in the United States with the current human rights struggle for L.G.B.T. people, but I can say that I am frequently called both, and the indignation, anger and at times resignation that course through my body are no greater or less for either. I know with both words the intent is to let me know that no matter how big, how accomplished, philanthropic or wise I may become, to them I am not even human.
I am tired of people having this debate about the relative impact of pejorative words on their target minority group. If injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, then the relative power of an antigay gay slur is irrelevant, it is simply a threat to human dignity, and that should appall us all.
I don’t think Kobe Bryant is some vicious homophobe, but I do think he made a mistake and has sounded more like a squirming politician than a national hero since the incident came to light. When you know that people hang on your every word, you should take more responsibility when the wrong words spill out in anger. When you understand that people treat you like a god, you should endeavor to be more benevolent when you exceed expectations and more contrite when you let people down.
I started playing basketball at age 17 in the United Kingdom. I went from the fat child who hid in the corner of the library to starting in the N.B.A. six years later. Despite my efforts, I couldn’t hold a candle to Kobe, but even with my limited prominence, I always knew two things: I was always under scrutiny and what I did and said mattered more because of that.
Kobe, stop fighting the fine. You spoke ill-advised words that shot out like bullets, and if the e-mails I received from straight and gay young people and sports fans in Los Angeles alone are anything to go by, you did serious damage with your outburst. Kobe, stop fighting the fine. Use that money and your influence to set a new tone that tells sports fans, boys, men and the society that looks up to you that the word you said in anger is not O.K., not ever. Too many athletes take the trappings of their hard-earned success and leave no tangible legacy apart from “that shot” or “that special game.”
Kobe Bryant is powerful enough to make an important change in the way we look at real equality in sports and in general. Kobe is one of sport’s heroes, one of sport’s gods, and I hope it’s not too much to ask for the occasional good deed worthy of those titles
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