In 2007, former NBA center John Amaechi shocked the NBA world by becoming the league's first openly gay former player. His book, Man in the Middle, revealed much about the NBA world and the inner struggle Amaechi faced as a gay professional athlete in an NBA where you are always seeming to prove your masculinity.
Amaechi faced a problem then that many Americans face now: trying to hide who you truly are in fear of the grave repercussions you could face.
Yes, American society in general has become more accepting of the LGBT community, but it is far from perfect. Stories still surface of children ridiculed to the point of committing suicide or being murdered and language still hold an anti-homosexual tone.
Amaechi feels incidents like the one that occurred with Kobe Bryant on Tuesday only set this group's fight for what they believe is a human right (a political debate for another time... and likely another blog) further back.
Amaechi wrote a response to the whole incident and public response to Bryant's homophobic slur sent to an NBA referee and the subsequent apology
(or non-apology) and $100,000 fine. Amaechi expressed his severe disappointment that someone so many people look up to and idolize would choose to use his platform in such a horrible and destructive way.
"When someone with the status of Kobe Bryant, arguably the best basketball player in a generation, hurls that antigay slur at a referee or anyone else — let’s call it the F-word — he is telling boys, men and anyone watching that when you are frustrated, when you are as angry as can be, the best way to demean and denigrate a person, even one in a position of power, is to make it clear that you think he is not a real man, but something less," Amaechi writes.
"I challenge you to freeze-frame Bryant’s face in that moment of conflict with the referee Bennie Adams. Really examine the loathing and utter contempt, and realize this is something with which almost every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender person is familiar. That is the sentiment people face in middle and high schools, in places of worship, work and even in their own homes across the United States."
The NBA is preparing to enter the postseason. It is a period when the league and pundits make a lot of random determinations about players and their careers. It is where Patrick Ewing became a choke-artist, where Michael Jordan became a killer. A lot of emotion gets wrapped up into these games, and, ultimately, they are the moments that resonate with us as fans.
We see our heroes performing at the highest level and want to be like them. We imagine taking that last-second shot in Game Seven of the NBA Finals or showing off that bravado which comes with being a championship.
There are a whole bunch of young adults out there wishing and hoping for the same. But, like Amaechi when he was playing, afraid to be who they really are because of fear. Unfortunately, Bryant's very public use of homophobic slur -- even in the supposed "heat of battle" -- further perpetuates hate speech and discourages people from being open with others.
Especially for children this can be hurtful. As Amaechi relates: "A young man from a Los Angeles public school e-mailed me. [Kobe is] his idol. He is playing up on his varsity team, he has your posters all over his room, and he hopes one day to play in college and then in the NBA 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."
He recognizes up front that Bryant is not a hateful, homophobic person. His poor choice of words were regretable.
But Amaechi is not asking for a verbal apology. He is asking Bryant realize the position he is in to truly impact the world in a positive way.
Photo via Reuters Pictures/DayLife.