Back in 2007, The New York Times was delighted when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the TV networks and against FCC fines for fleeting profanities on broadcast TV. "If Bush Can Blurt Curse, So Can Network TV," the Times wrote in its Page One headline.
But in 2011, when gays are outraged that NBA star Kobe Bryant was caught on television during a game mouthing the "gay F-bomb" at a referee, and the NBA assesses an amazing $100,000 fine for this one word, Times sports columnist William Rhoden argued the fine was puny and that Bryant should be forced to sit out the first game of the playoffs. The Times also approvingly published gay activist John Amaechi on its Off the Dribble blog begging Bryant not to challenge the fine. Apparently, some "curse words" have a much deadlier ring:
Kobe, stop fighting the fine. You spoke ill-advised words that shot out like bullets, and if the e-mails I received from straight and gay young people and sports fans in Los Angeles alone are anything to go by, you did serious damage with your outburst.
A young man from a Los Angeles public school e-mailed me. You are his idol. He is playing up, on the varsity team, he has your posters all over his room, and he hopes one day to play in college and then in the N.B.A. with you. He used to fall asleep with images of passing you the ball to sink a game-winning shot. He watched every game you played this season on television, but this week he feels less safe and less positive about himself because he stared adoringly into your face as you said the word that haunts him in school every single day.
Kobe, stop fighting the fine. Use that money and your influence to set a new tone that tells sports fans, boys, men and the society that looks up to you that the word you said in anger is not O.K., not ever. Too many athletes take the trappings of their hard-earned success and leave no tangible legacy apart from "that shot" or "that special game."
In case Ameachi's reference to Bryant's words being like deadly "bullets" wasn't strong enough, Amaechi spelled it out. These words are fatal:
Right now in America young people are being killed and killing themselves simply because of the words and behaviors they are subjected to for being perceived as lesbian or gay, or frankly just different. This is not an indictment of the individuals suffocated by their mistreatment, it is an indication of the power of that word, and others like it, to brutalize and dehumanize. This F-word, which so many people seem to think is no big deal, is the postscript to too many of those lives cut short.
The Times couldn't even find room to consider that Bryant's fine was excessive. Ironically, four years ago, Bryant was the one trying to sound the right notes in a February 18, 2007 Harvey Araton column after former NBA star Tim Hardaway said "I hate gay people," which is not only tasteless, but a quick ticket to obscurity.
"Those comments show it's a struggle; there's a long way to go," Kobe Bryant said in response to Hardaway's application of a four-letter word -- hate -- to gay people during a recent radio interview....
"You have to be open-minded," Bryant said upon taking his political-correctness quiz Friday, though specifically to what -- the coming-out book tour of the former N.B.A. center John Amaechi, a hypothetical gay teammate or the gay community at large -- he didn't say.
In his column, Bill Rhoden proclaimed the hard line of moralism in the secular progressive world:
If the N.B.A. really did care, as its slogan suggests, Kobe Bryant would be sitting out Game 1 of the Los Angeles Lakers’ playoff series Sunday against the New Orleans Hornets.
But the penalty wasn’t harsh enough. For a star player earning $27 million this season, a $100,000 fine — about 0.4 percent of his salary — is far less imposing than cutting into his playing time...
We live in a world in which money has increasingly become a substitute for morality, where it cures all. Commit a crime, throw money at it; hurl an insult, pay a fine.
That is easier than attacking a more deeply ingrained attitudinal problem that seems peculiar to sports. When it comes to sexuality and sexual orientation, sports in general and team sports in particular continue to be the last frontier of intolerance...
Had Stern sat Bryant down for a playoff game, rather than administer checkbook justice, the league would have made a forceful statement about its intolerance with intolerance.
Some say that would have been overkill.
Hardly. Not in an atmosphere in which intolerance seems to be stiffening.