Friday, April 15, 2011

An Open Letter to Kobe Bryant: Kids Are Watching and Listening to You, Dude.

Dear Kobe:
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 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.


NG said...

Question: If Kobe's outburst hadn't been caught by TNT and posted on YouTube, would you have posted this message?

Pat Griffin said...

I don't understand the point of your question? Are you defending Kobe's use of an anti-gay slur as appropriate? Do you think HE is somehow the victim of media coverage? It wouldn't be ok no matter whether it was covered by the media or not. Because it was and because it was Kobe Bryant, it is even more damaging to more young people.

NG said...

What's not to understand?

If you're wondering, I know what homophobia is; I've been experiencing it all my life from all sorts of people: gay, anti-gay, ex-gay, and ex ex gay, online and off, and I'm sure you have too.

So let's stop playing games.

This is a manufactured controversy, a controversy because TNT broadcast it and someone else was smart enough to post it on YouTube.

What's outrageous is people throwing themselves in front of Kobe hoping for a payday.

We as LGBT's have far bigger problems than Kobe. Today, for example, Maggie Gallagher was invited to appear before a House Judiciary Committee on DOMA and argue why DOMA should remain federal law. Tonight, CNN & Dr. Drew is going to give credence to the ex-gay movement. You want to argue over what some overpriced NBA player said on court?

Unknown said...

If a tree falls in the woods and no ones there to hear it, does it still fall? Yes.

All of these happenings: Media covered or not words, DOMA are all intertwined.

We have to make a statement to society for what we believe is or isn't acceptable. We have to be seen, we have to intervene.

It's fine if you have bigger fish to fry, but don't go giving crap to someone who is trying to make a difference. We all take a piece of the pie in creating this change.

Ease up. The kids who see Kobe are voters someday so if that helps you relate this to DOMA, then there. you. go.

Pat Griffin said...

NG,this is an LGBT sports blog. It's what I write about here. I agree there are many other important issues on the LGBT rights agenda and thank you for working on them. I do too, but here I focus on LGBT issues in sports. I think focusing on LGBT issues in sports is a very important part of achieving LGBT equality generally so I don't think they are completely separate agendas.

NG said...

I know this is a sports themed blog, but my question is valid or rational, and I remain disappointed that my gay and lesbian bretheren are unwilling to admit the truth when such cases warrant one.

The guy was angry at a bad call, he forgot this was a televised game and he let his emotion get the better of him. This should have been a two minute story in the sport section of the local news, but instead some blogger wanted to make a stink of it and created a domino effect that has gone viral, to the extent that everyone is trying to scapegoat Kobe for everything that has happened against LGBT's.

Even now as Kobe promises to do his part to eliminate using anti-gay slurs in sports, there are still people wanting to make a debate of this.

What else does one need?

Wyman Stewart said...

NG, you're right. A two minute blip on the national sports radar screen is what this warranted.

Not a Kobe Bryant fan, but I ask, has this story gone viral because: (1.) Kobe's a top NBA star (2.) He's Black and vulnerable due to past self-confessed adultery (3.) He's seen as a straight male? Would an openly Gay NBA player have received the same treatment for the same slur?

Also, did the context within which the slur arose warrant thorough examination? On and on this topic can go, but I close with:

NG, thank you for your open mind.

Anonymous said...

Why do people read this blog, if they don't want to read about what Pat has to say about LBGT issues in sport? Makes no sense to me.

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Hostpph said...

It would be better if coaches and players can have a little course about how to behave in TV or the Internet.