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Kobe Bryant's anti-gay slur is indefensible; afterward is a nonapology, then reconciliation

April 14, 2011 |  9:44 am

First came the anger.

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant punched his chair, threw his towel and then threw an anti-gay slur at referee Bennie Adams amid frustration for picking up his 15th technical foul of the season Tuesday during the Lakers-Spurs game.

Then came the defiance.

The TNT telecast captured Bryant's outburst. Analyst Steve Kerr noted, "You might want to take the cameras off of him right now, for the children watching from home." And the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, said in a release, "What a disgrace for Kobe Bryant to use such horribly offensive and distasteful language, especially when millions of people are watching."

In return, Bryant released a weakly worded statement that offered no apology whatsoever and featured a scolding tone wondering how anyone could take offense to what he said. "What I said last night should not be taken literally," his statement read. "My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period. The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone."

Then came the reconciliation.

Amid the HRC's dissatisfaction with Bryant's statement, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation called on the NBA and the Lakers to "take appropriate disciplinary action and use it as an opportunity to educate."

Bryant appeared on 710 ESPN's "Mason & Ireland" on Wednesday afternoon and sounded more sensible. He understood how words like the ones he uttered are the same words that some yell at homosexuals to discriminate and incite violence. He pledged to meet with groups such as HRC and GLAAD to apologize further and talk about using the incident as a springboard into further discussion about gay rights issues, reducing hate crimes and spreading awareness about what these words mean.

And he offered hope that his $100,000 fine, which he wrongfully said he will appeal, and the strongly condemned reaction will serve as a lesson to other NBA players that what he uttered goes beyond the trash talking and profanity-driven language in every basketball game.

It was surely a long day for Bryant, who earned initial criticism from HRC and GLAAD, a $100,000 fine from the NBA and later public praise from the HRC for his reaching out to them and from GLAAD on the league-imposed punishment. He fit in a 36-point performance on 13-for-24 shooting in the Lakers' 116-108 overtime victory over the Sacramento Kings. I have waited until all the developments unfolded before offering a comprehensive take on the situation, but here's something that hasn't changed since Bryant uttered those words. Bryant's anti-gay slur is indefensible.

He's surely not the first athlete to utter these words in the heat of competition. After all, Kevin Garnett did the same thing nearly three years ago and interestingly faced no consequences. But that doesn't absolve Bryant from blame so much as expose the league's hypocrisy regarding the issue. Justifying any used of a anti-gay slur and lumping it in with the profanity-laced phrases athletes use all the time on the court has the same twisted equivalency of saying the emotions just got the best of a white athlete who yelled out the n word during a game.

These aren't swear words. They're slurs that have been used to incite violence and promote discrimination, an outcome Bryant surely didn't intend, but they are words that inflict discomfort among those affected groups. As a hip hop fan and frequent viewer of shows such as "South Park," I understand how that slur is used in connotations that have nothing to do with hate-filled speech toward homosexuals. But that doesn't make it right.

That's why Bryant deserves credit when he stressed this on 710 ESPN's "Mason & Ireland": "The concern that I have is for those that follow what I say and are inspired by how I play or look to me as a role model or whatever it is, for them not to take what is said as a message of hate or a license to degrade or embarrass or tease. That's something I don't want to see happen. It's important for me to talk about that issue because it's OK to be who you are, and I don't want this issue to be a part of something or to magnify something that shouldn't be."

He backed up those actions in speaking with HRC with sentiments he expressed when scolding Tim Hardaway's anti-gay comments four years ago, enough for the group to release another strongly worded statement, this time praising Bryant: “I applaud Kobe Bryant for his swift apology. We had a very sincere conversation in which he expressed his heartfelt regret for the hurt that his words caused. He told me that it’s never OK to degrade or tease, and that he understands how his words could unfortunately give the wrong impression that this is appropriate conduct. At the end of a difficult day, I applaud Kobe for coming forward and taking responsibility for his actions.”

It surely was a difficult day that ultimately Bryant learned from.

-- Mark Medina

Photo: Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) stands on the court while head coach Phil Jackson stands near the team bench in the background before the start of the game against the Sacramento Kings at the Power Balance Pavilion. The Lakers defeated the Kings 116-108 in overtime. Credit: Cary Edmondson / US Presswire