More patently anti-gay and not-so-subtly homophobic tweets by an NBA player, as well as prospects for the upcoming NBA Draft, have been discovered by an Outsports reader, each of them raising the question of how to handle this epidemic from days past that continues to plague professional sports.
At least three players being considered in the draft, as well as league veteran Richaun Holmes, took to Twitter years ago to use homophobic phrases or slurs directed at individuals. None of them have apologized for their language or taken any action to undo the damage.
To be sure, this isn’t a problem innate to the NBA. Players in Major League Baseball and the NFL, as well as professional soccer players, have had old anti-gay tweets surface previously.
This also isn’t a new problem for the NBA, with veteran Al-Farouq Aminu being caught a couple years ago.
What gay slurs have NBA players and current prospects used?
In the latest round, the most egregious tweets discovered by our intrepid reader and researcher were from Richaun Holmes of the Phoenix Suns. These were also the oldest tweets unearthed, coming in 2011 when Holmes was 17.
An email to the Suns directed Outsports to his agent. Emails to Holmes’ agent were not answered. The Suns did not offer comment.
While it would be easy to dismiss these as the nonsense of a teenager at a time before same-sex marriage was legal, Holmes also has not recanted these hateful messages or done anything to undo their damage. More on that below.
Hoping to be drafted into the NBA this week is Talen Horton-Tucker of Iowa State. His old tweets from 2015 called someone a gay slur and in multiple tweets used the homophobic “No Homo.”
Multiple emails to Horton-Tucker’s agents went unanswered. To Outsports’ knowledge, Horton-Tucker has never recanted or undone the damage of his tweets.
NBA players tweeting “No Homo” has been going on for a decade. It popped up multiple times with other current NBA prospects, like with Darius Garland of Vanderbilt…
…and Purdue’s Carsen Edwards…
According to one LGBTQ French-speaking athlete, Draft prospect Sekou Doumbouya went all in by telling a follower to “unfollow me you little f**got.” This tweet has been deleted by Doumbouya in the last few weeks since he hired an agent:
While he deleted that tweet, he has not publicly condemned it or distanced himself from it in any way that we know.
What does the NBA do about anti-gay tweets?
In response to a request for comment, an NBA spokesperson pointed us to a Sports Illustrated article about the rigors of dissecting — and scrubbing — players’ Twitter feeds. In particular, they pointed to this paragraph:
Scouring the social media accounts of prospective prospects has become an integral part of team’s draft process. The NBA assists by doing its own research. As part of the league’s efforts to ensure incoming prospects are prepared for the rigors of life in professional basketball, a handful of employees in the league’s PR department review players’ social media feeds for any content they may want to reconsider leaving up when taking into account the increased attention.
The league’s response seems to suggest the athlete delete the tweet and hope no one sees it. However, in addition to that, the NBA told Outsports that it engages in various educational activities in this space for its players, including a diversity and inclusion program during the NBA Rookie Transition Program, Team Awareness Meetings throughout the season, as well as through junior basketball programs.
We’ll be curious to see if the league recommends actually taking ownership of, and making amends for, the anti-gay language, as we have prescribed below.
While some will dismiss these tweets as language of a bygone era — all of them were at least four years ago — personal anecdotes and studies all show that homophobic language and gay slurs are present in very sports today. Heck, current players in the NHL have recently been caught weaponizing the homophobic language.
However, it is super important to note that the use of this language does not connote a rejection of LGBTQ people, as research by Monash University has shown (and which Outsports and other LGBTQ people in sports have been saying for yeeeeeears).
However, the damage of these slurs to gay athletes is very real, and their use drives LGBTQ athletes from sports.
What should be done with these anti-gay tweets?
Punishing a professional athlete for dumb tweets when they were 14 seems extreme to me. Whether it’s removing a player from a team’s draft board or suspending them for a game or fining them, punitive action really misses the point.
To be sure, if an NBA player tweeted any of these things today while on a roster, with all of the education out there about the power of this language, I’d expect a serious response, including some form of impactful punishment, from the team or league.
But a tweet from 2015? There are better, more forward-thinking ways to handle it. Here are my two steps to remedying each and every one of these tweets:
1) Take ownership of the tweet and share your personal thoughts on it. I said things when I was 15 that I would renounce today. I used the word “fag.” People make mistakes, and people grow. Owning the mistake from several years ago, and sharing how you feel about it today, gets you halfway there.
2) Take action to help eradicate the language from sports. Studies have shown, and Outsports has expressed for years, that homophobic language does not mean the athlete hates gay people. However, that’s how the gay people hear it. The athlete should work with GLSEN, You Can Play or other local organizations to visit high schools and end the use of gay slurs in sports. That makes amends for hurtful mistakes and helps ensure others won’t make the same mistake going forward.
To be clear: The “apology” is meaningless without the reparative action. Just saying “Oh sorry I was 16 at the time” doesn’t undo the damage, sends the message that the athlete’s apology is just lip service, and tells teenagers they can do whatever they want “because I’m a kid.”
If I were Adam Silver I would work with the players union to create a robust program to bring these athletes into the work of GLSEN or You Can Play, or even larger groups like GLAAD or HRC, to help repair the community’s association with sports that has for too long been dominated by these slurs.