Watch Your Language

May 24, 2011 – 2:05 am by Hickey

WARNING: The following post contains offensive language. But that’s what the internet was made for, so deal with it.

In the past month, two NBA players — Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah — have both been heavily fined by David Stern and universally chided for using the term “fucking faggot” after heading to the bench in a fit of anger, and it wasn’t the first F-word that got them in trouble.

At the time of Kobe’s incident, I thought of the meat of the post I am about to write, but just never got around to it. Now that he’s been joined by Noah — the American-bred son of a Frenchman tennis star/musician born in Africa and a Swedish model/artist mother, an individual as open-minded and worldly as you’re likely to find in North American sports — I feel like the point I was going to make then has been proven to be even more true now.

Though it’s obviously a hurtful, venomous term to gays, particularly those of an older generation who probably had it hurled at them dozens of times without a second thought, it’s my belief that the vast majority of people who use the term “faggot” — Bryant and Noah included — are not doing so out of any malice towards anyone in the gay community. The word itself is one that has evolved into a mindless pejorative for those in their 20s and early 30s, along the lines of “asshole,” “bastard,” “dick,” “cocksucker,” “motherfucker” and others that people drop in frustration without giving any thought to what their actual meaning is.

Really, have you ever called someone an asshole while thinking they are actually a rectum? How many of those you have deemed bastards are actually illegitimate children? Isn’t the term “cocksucker” even more of an anti-gay slam than “faggot” if you think of its definition and the insulting manner in which it is always used? (Especially when you never hear a female referred to as a “cocksucker,” with the possible exception of some rap songs). And I don’t think anyone who has been called a “motherfucker” has stopped and said “Now wait just a second mister, I do not engage in sexual relations with mothers!”

There are those who feel that David Stern’s fines in these situations — $100,000 for Bryant and $50,000 for Noah — is an example of political correctness run amok. I disagree. I think it’s more a lack of understanding about how the English language and slang evolves, sometimes just over the course of a few years. There’s no better example than the word “gay” itself. Lest youngsters today listen to the Flintstones theme and assume Bedrock was a stone-age San Fransisco, it was used as a term for happy in those days. Now it has become a noun meaning something entirely different — as they say, not that there’s anything wrong with that. (Likewise, in the song “Blue Money,” Van Morrison is not hurling violent anti-gay slurs when he suggests “lighting up a fag.” He’s smoking a cigarette).

Being one of an open mind myself, I think there are things the NBA is doing with the gay community that should be commended. I think it’s gutsy and impressive for Steve Nash to come out in support of gay marriage. And for his general manager, Rick Welts, to come out of the closet.

That being said, I think Stern’s fines on Bryant and Noah are heavy-handed and reactionary. Had they actually used the word “faggot” in the manner it is continually described as in the media — an anti-gay slur — I would agree with his actions and suggest suspensions to boot. But they weren’t aiming the words at anyone who is gay. They were using it as the broad-brush insult that it has become, a triggered word that has become one that pops out of the mouth like an automatic reflex sans thought.

I’m not advocating that anyone run around dropping the term like its hot. Like any kind of foul language, it should generally be avoided. But I do understand how it happened. And any suggestion that either Bryant or Noah is some kind of bigot for using the word is just as mindless as bigotry itself.

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