During a game on April 12, Bryant was hit with a technical foul, and he responded by calling the referee a derogatory name for a gay man (hereinafter referred to as the "F" word).
NBA Commissioner David Stern fined him $100,000 and said, "Such a distasteful term should never be tolerated." Stern added:
"Kobe and everyone associated with the NBA [should] know that insensitive or derogatory comments are not acceptable and have no place in our game or society."
Bryant admitted that he should have not used the term, but he gave himself some wiggle room.
"The comment that I made, even though it wasn't meant in the way it was perceived to be, is nonetheless wrong, so it's important to own that," he said. "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."
A few days later, Bryant tried again to placate his critics. He told ESPN reporter Lisa Salters: "Even though I didn't mean it that way, I've since learned what that word still means to a lot of people. I went on-line myself and I did my own research and I saw and I read about kids who were committing suicide because of being teased for who they are."
But it is difficult to imagine, what with the heightened awareness around anti-gay bullying, that Bryant was unaware that the word he used still carries such a sting.
Like the "N" word against black people, the "F" word against gay people is always intended to insult. These words are meant to convey negativity and shame; they are meant to belittle and humiliate.
The "F" word and the "N" word will always be harmful in a homophobic and racist society.
And in sports where homophobia reigns supreme, the "F" word is the ultimate insult. According to sportswriter Dave Zirin, author of "A People's History of Sports in the United States," so extreme is this prejudice that not a single male athlete currently playing professional football, baseball, or basketball has dared to come out as a gay man.
Bryant and the Lakers have met with a couple of gay and lesbian anti-discrimination groups, and that's a good start. But it's not enough.
Bryant needs to drop his appeal of the $100,000 fine. And he should give another $100,000 to one of the groups in this country that is fighting homophobia. He certainly can afford it. And he would be sending a proper message of contrition by doing so.
Here's to hoping that this incident with Kobe Bryant will help people understand the cruel impact of these words and thereby stop using them.
Akilah Bolden-Monifa is a freelance writer based in Oakland, Calif. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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