Following the Indiana Pacers’ Game 6 victory in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals on June 1, star center Roy Hibbert made comments that many people deemed offensive.
When asked about assisting teammate Paul George with guarding Miami Heat superstar LeBron James, according to Yahoo! Sports, Hibbert said, “I really felt that I let Paul down in terms of having his back when LeBron was scoring in the post or getting to the paint, because they stretched me out so much. No homo.”
“No homo” is a slang expression used prominently in mainstream rap music and by young American males as a way of distancing themselves from words or actions that could be viewed as homosexual.
After he released what appears to be a sincere apology, Hibbert was fined $75,000 and is receiving harsh criticism from members of the media, league officials and fans alike, according to Yahoo! Sports.
While I cannot begin to understand how hurtful homophobic slurs can be to members of the gay community, I believe categorizing Hibbert as a homophobic villain is overkill. The comments were certainly in poor taste and as someone in the spotlight, Hibbert should have known that joking about such a sensitive topic would not be warmly received.
But to me, Hibbert’s “no homo” statement was nothing more than an off-color joke and clearly does not reflect his genuine beliefs with regard to homosexual lifestyle. Sure, he should have to accept the consequences, but there is simply no reason to villainize someone for making an off-the-cuff joke after winning the biggest game of his life.
Comparatively, in an interview with shock jock Artie Lange prior to Super Bowl XLVII in January, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver made comments drastically more malicious than Hibbert’s. According to Yahoo! Sports, Culliver said, “...we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah…can’t be…in the locker room man. Nah.”
Despite what clearly reflects genuine personal anti-gay beliefs, Culliver’s homophobic comments did not result in a fine. However, he did receive similar criticism to Hibbert.
It is apparent that any time an athlete says something of poor taste, he is instantly classified as a homophobe, racist or whatever his comments may have implied.
Certainly there should be backlash in instances where an athlete makes hateful and intolerant comments against a minority group — such as with Culliver — but I believe there needs to be discretion shown before society jumps down the throat of an athlete for his comments. I sincerely doubt, based on his buffoonery, anyone truly believes Hibbert is a homophobe.
People give athletes too much credit. These guys are in the public eye for no reason other than superior physical talents. Calling their dumb jokes “homophobic,” for example, implies that they were using their stardom to subtly express personal beliefs, which I believe is highly unlikely.
Some may argue that because professional athletes are often viewed as role models, they should behave as such. Well, I believe that people who view athletes as heroes need to change their perspective. The same way politicians are not elected based on their vertical leap or jump-shot accuracy, athletes’ words should not be analyzed with a fine-toothed comb.
Athletes’ line of work has them practicing their craft in a schoolyard-like atmosphere every day. This environment is one where joking and ridicule is a fact of life, and things are acceptably said on the field, court or course that would be poorly received elsewhere.
Professional athletes are the last people we should be looking toward for professionalism. If you want someone to be mad at, blame the politicians who are unwilling to give homosexuals equal rights — not a guy getting paid to dunk a basketball who happened to make a bad joke.
Patrick Ryan is a UF English senior. His columns appear Thursdays.