The NBA, its teams and players have pursued many initiatives to support the LGBTQ community and gay athletes in the last few years. Collectively they have all also dropped the ball in responding to graphic homophobic comments by Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant.
The league has participated in the New York Pride March multiple times. They created a line of T-shirts that showed each team’s logo in rainbow colors. Some of the current and former players and coaches have been amazing. Dwyane Wade. Steve Kerr. Doc Rivers. Various teams — Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings, Philadelphia 76ers — have rolled out the proverbial red carpet for the LGBTQ community at various games.
Many people across the NBA want homophobia and homophobic language in sports to go away. 100%. They do.
So how did almost every single one of them respond to Kevin Durant — one of the league’s biggest stars and a future Hall of Famer — using literally the most graphic homophobic language I’ve ever seen from a professional athlete?
The NBA fined Durant $50,000 for the infraction. No suspension, which we know is what speaks volumes to players. Fines for someone like Durant are truly meaningless. He will literally more than pay off this fine halfway through the first quarter of his next game.
In contrast, professional leagues across other sports have utilized suspensions, even when the language was not heard publicly.
Then this statement from the NBA:
“Durant has acknowledged that his actions were inappropriate.”
Ummmmmm… “Inappropriate”??!!?! Did you see what he SAID?!??!?!!??!?!
How did the players respond?
Even more crickets.
While wearing shirts lobbying for social justice and using their platforms to push for equality and acceptance, when it came to one of their own last week — again, using the most graphic homophobic language I’ve ever heard from any professional athlete ever — NBA players closed ranks and stayed quiet.
“Disappointing” doesn’t begin to describe the response.
One player even defended Durant and his use of graphic anti-gay language, saying, “He didn’t do nothing wrong.”
For contrast, then-Miami Heat center Meyers Leonard uttered an anti-Semitic slur in a video game stream last month and is now not even with a team.
Durant’s anti-gay infractions were multiple, repeated, and it can’t be said enough: designed by Durant to be graphic and to elicit a negative response. What he said was so graphic I won’t paste it here, but you can see the tweets for yourself.
Whether the cricket-response is the league downplaying homophobia or giving a future Hall of Famer a pass, we should get answers. Something is off here.
Normally, the league is proactive in dealing with issues like this. In 2015, commissioner Adam Silver’s response after fining and suspending Rajon Rondo in 2015 for using a gay slur towards an official explained the power of losing playing time.
“The step from a financial penalty to a suspension, to me, was one that we knew would attract attention,” Silver said in an interview on Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast.
Yet in Durant’s case: a terse statement, no suspension and “let’s move on, nothing to see here.”
New York high school basketball coach Anthony Nicodemo put it perfectly to me:
“In a time where social justice is at the forefront, especially in the NBA, here you have a situation where one of the best players in the history of the NBA is using very clear homophobic language to try to hurt somebody. And there is an opportunity to talk about it and rectify this and talk about the mistake.”
Nicodemo went further and explained why this episode — a private conversation laced with homophobia — is exactly the opportunity for more conversation, not something to try to ignore:
“It’s this kind of language that scares people from coming out because they don’t believe they’re going to be accepted. This language, and people who use this language, are hurtful.”
As I said at the start, the NBA, its teams and players have done some good stuff for the LGBTQ community.
Durant has equally been an overall positive force for the LGBTQ community. When the NBA took part in New York Pride, Durant shared messages of support on social media. When Jason Collins came out publicly in 2013, Durant offered words of support. It was Durant’s shoe that Nike made part of the BeTrue campaign to support LGBTQ visibility and people doing the work behind the scenes.
Yet when he wanted to insult someone in text messages, Durant went directly to homophobic language.
A gay slur would have been better than what he said. He graphically described sex between two men and repeatedly used homophobia as a bludgeon to beat down his alleged frenemy, actor Michael Rapaport.
There is zero doubt in my mind that the NBA would support an out gay player in the league. We know this is true, because the league supported Jason Collins while playing and John Amaechi after retirement. The league essentially canceled Tim Hardaway when he proclaimed to Dan Lebatard, “I hate gay people.”
I also have zero doubt that Durant would support a gay teammate.
But this isn’t about a gay player coming out in the NBA. This is about the fear that resides in those players, in college players, and for the thousands of gay high school and youth basketball players who just watched an NBA star use some of the most homophobic language I’ve ever seen from an athlete, and then watched the league look the other way.
The National Basketball Players Association — the athletes’ union — bears some responsibility for the failed response. In trying to “protect” its players, the NBPA has negotiated terms that make it difficult for the league to take some stronger actions on a matter like this.
The NBPA, from what I’ve seen, has been silent.
If I were NBA commissioner Adam Silver, I would suspend Durant and let the NBPA challenge it.
“Go ahead, publicly take us to arbitration. I dare you.”
Gosh, what a powerful message that would have sent.
The Brooklyn Nets have also handled this with weakness.
To their credit, the Nets have previously hosted Pride games and signed Jason Collins after he came out publicly as gay. Like the league, the Nets have shown support for the LGBTQ community.
The weak response is likely not an accident: The Nets are currently vying for the top seed in the Eastern Conference and want Durant back on the court (he’s been injured).
When I contacted the Nets for a team statement, a spokesperson responded with a comment from the team’s head coach, Steve Nash, that completely misses the entire point:
“Well, first of all, that was a private conversation with him and the other party. We’ve talked about it internally. But we’ll keep all that stuff internal.”
I asked the team for a statement from the team itself.
That’s really disheartening.
The Nets and the NBA are missing the perfect opportunity to talk publicly about the impact of language. Instead, they want you to move on. “Nothing to see here.”
For his part, Durant’s non-apology could not have been worse:
“I’m sorry that people seen that language I used,” Durant said. “That’s not really what I want people to see and hear from me, but hopefully I can move past it and get back out on the floor.”
I’m sorry people saw my homophobic language? Huh??!??!!?!
He’s not sorry for using the language, only that you saw him do it.
“So when the Nets have their next Pride Night, what, they’re going to have Durant come out and support the LGBTQ community?” Nicodemo said. “You’re going to have Steve Nash out there wrapped in a rainbow flag after this? It sends very mixed messages.”
The NBA is a private institution. It can do what it wants. And the players association is a collection of millionaires with only one goal: benefiting said millionaires.
But gosh, what a missed opportunity to send a message to players and fans about the importance of stopping homophobic language and the impact it has on people.
For a league that claims to be vested in social justice, it begs the question: Huh??!?!?!!?