Earlier this week Kobe Bryant used an all-too-familiar homosexual slur to disparage a referee, and predictably, someone in the Lakers organization immediately published a press release, claiming that Kobe meant no disrespect.
After David Sterns fined Kobe $100, 000, some criticized the NBA commissioner and suggested that he should simply understand that these things happen in the heat of competition. I take an opposing point of view for 3 reasons:
First, if anything, we should hold Kobe and others in the public eye to a higher standard when it comes to issues related to tolerance because high profile folks have high profile impact on the wider culture. A profane comment from a member of the glitterati undermines the effectiveness of a thousand “It Gets Better” youtubes.
This more punitive approach may seem a bit unfair, but such is the cost of fame in our celebrity-worshipping culture. (Tony Kornheiser points out that, “Being a quarterback means you get too much credit when you win. Too much blame when you lose. But they never offer to give back the money.”)
Second, Kobe never said the 3 magic words: “I am sorry.” The era of a press release “mea culpa” went the way of the Y2K bug. It’s long over, and nobody but nobody wants to hear the passive voice, as in “mistakes were made.”
Third, while $100 k might make most of us order a “tall” rather than a “grande” for the rest of eternity, in the life of a La La Land Laker, it’s not a significant hit. Rather than fining Kobe, Stern should have suspended him for the first round of the playoffs. If that punishes the team as well as the individual, so be it. (I’m going to go out on a limb and bet that last week’s offense was not the first time Kobe uttered that particular profanity on the hardwood, and if even one of his teammates let him get away without addressing the issue in the past, well then, such is the nature of collective guilt.)
If this consequence actually cost the Lakers a chance to defend their title, just imagine the impact all of this might have had on the wider culture. Talk about teachable moments! “Remember when the Lakers were about to 3-peat and then that knucklehead Kobe cost us?”