Thoughts on Kobe Bryant's slur

Despite a morning that began with a second seed still up for grabs, Andrew Bynum’s impending MRI results, Steve Blake’s chicken pox, and concerns about Matt Barnes’ surgically repaired knee flaring up, Kobe Bryant inevitably ended up the story in Laker Land. Some things never change, you know?

After getting hit with a technical foul Tuesday against the Spurs, Bryant proceeded to lob a gay slur at referee Bennie Adams. We know this because TNT’s cameras happened to be pointed at Kobe during the outburst. We also know this because after a storm of reaction from the Internet, along with organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, Bryant issued a statement acknowledging everybody’s lip-reading skills:

“What I said last night should not be taken literally. 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.”

Bryant offered more contrite thoughts on 710 ESPN’s Mason & Ireland Show. He said “pure frustration” may have prompted his words, but invoking the slur was a mistake. He also said his words meant “nothing to the effect” of the most potentially hurtful interpretation.

“The concern that I have is that those who 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 was said as a message of hate or a license to degrade or embarrass or tease, because that's something I don’t want to see have happen.

“It’s important for me to talk about that issue, because it’s OK to be who you are. I don’t want this issue to be a part of something or to magnify something that shouldn’t be.”

Bryant’s outburst in the game was absolutely inappropriate. Even in the heat of the moment, this language has no place on an NBA court. There’s no way around what the word means, and its subsequent propensity to offend. Kobe was fined $100,000 by the league, and while he mentioned plans to appeal, the procedure was painted as more obligatory than a stand being taken. The magnitude of his words certainly didn’t appear lost on Bryant.

Still, the intent behind Kobe’s words matters as much as the words themselves, and I believe he didn’t mean them at their most hateful. But that doesn’t make him any less guilty of bad judgment, nor people any less justified in taking offense.

While expressing his plans to speak with various gay advocacy organizations, Kobe relayed awareness of why it was important to address this mistake.

I believe it’s our responsibility as athletes and as those in the spotlight is to bring awareness to certain issues. Where it stems from, it stems from a negative light. But it’s our responsibility to turn it into a positive and try to raise as much awareness as we possibly can to say that that is not OK, and to insult or to disrespect is not the right thing to do.”

A lapse in sensitivity doesn’t make somebody a hateful element of society.

It’s clearly a frustrating time for Kobe heading into the playoffs. He’s been racking up technical fouls, rescinded or not. For a team stumbling to the finish line, this strikes me as fairly unsettling. Phil Jackson expressed concerns Tuesday about Bryant’s state of mind heading into the playoffs. When Bryant gets agitated, his response is often to impatiently take matters into his own hands, which often places the Lakers in precarious situations.

Thus, I’m hoping some good can come out of this incident. From a humanistic standpoint, it’s a reminder certain words shouldn’t be tolerated, and there can be consequences for blurting them out, even for the most famous athletes. Part of being a professional is being held accountable for failing to exercise self-control.

And from a basketball standpoint, maybe this fallout will prompt Kobe to take a deep breath and regroup. The Lakers have enough issues heading into the playoffs without Kobe’s temper turning problematic. The supporting cast often takes its cues from Bryant, and if he continues to allow frustration to get the better of him, his teammates will likely follow suit. Kobe needs to clear his head, and this incident will hopefully be the impetus for starting the process.