Monday, November 19, 2007

Brokeback Basketball

Last week following a poorly played game by the Lakers, Coach Phil Jackson described the game to the press thusly, “We call this a ‘Brokeback Mountain’ game because there’s so much penetration and kickouts.” The NBA reprimanded Jackson calling his comment “in poor taste.” In response, Jackson started to apologize but then took a 180 and turned it into the standard non-apology apology by trying to make a joke of the whole thing, “It's poor humor. I deserve to be reprimanded by the NBA. If I've offended any horses, Texans, cowboys or gays, I apologize."

I’ve always liked Phil Jackson. He seems to be a class act among professional men’s sport coaches. So, I was a little surprised by his gratuitous joke and cynical apology. I don’t think it was funny or appropriate. I think it was a cheap and thoughtless attempt at humor that demeans Jackson. The joke only works if you think it’s funny to equate poor play by a men’s basketball team with being raped. This might seem a little heavy-handed, but, really. Nothing about the comment feels “consensual.” It doesn’t feel like a harmless sex joke to me, however inappropriate even that is. Plus, it plays on the stereotype that, in men’s sports, being dominated by the other team (having your defense penetrated) makes you gay, weak, soft (add your own “gay” adjective here). Isn’t this just a little more sophisticated way to equate poor play with being a “fag?” We all know too many coaches motivate male athletes by telling them they are “playing like a fag (or a girl)” as a way to get them to “man up.”

I also hate it that references to Brokeback Mountain have become sort of an all-purpose gay joke punch line. A couple of years ago, opposing fans were chanting “Brokeback Reddick” at Duke basketball star JJ Reddick and holding up movie posters with Reddick’s face on them. Brokeback Mountain is a sensitive and poignant movie about love between men and the destructive effects of homophobia, internalized and societal. How did it morph into this all-purpose adolescent gay joke used by adults who should know better?

OK, back to the Jackson comment – I know some people will see my response as PC, others will say I have no sense of humor (the guys at even think Jackson’s comment was funny). I think Jackson’s comment was mostly stupid, and compared with the hate-filled comments of a Tim Hardaway or a Jeremy Shockey, fairly innocuous. However, let’s not forget that professional men’s sports are still so homophobic that there are no out active players. Let’s not forget that young men in school and on the streets are still beaten up even on the suspicion that they are gay. Some schools would rather ban all extra-curricular clubs than allow students to organize a gay-straight alliance. Same-sex couples still can’t get married in 49 of 50 states, only 19 states out of 50 have laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and there is no federal employment non-discrimination law at all.

I may have to own up to being a little PC, but I do have a great sense of humor. Sorry, Phil, this just ain’t funny.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much of the shrug-it-off reaction on OutSports (and elsewhere) to Phil Jackson's pathetic joke is "coach worship."

Remember when Mike Gundy lashed out recently at a WOMAN sports columnist? All over the web, people expressed outrage at her. Coach must not be questioned; coach is always right; if coach tells a joke all must laugh.