Game bans essential for bigoted pros

by John Anderson

Athletes such as Tiger Woods, Barry Bonds and Kobe Bryant must realize the influence their status has on the much younger public watching their games on the big screen, Omar Rodriguez / Staff Artist
Athletes such as Tiger Woods, Barry Bonds and Kobe Bryant must realize the influence their status has on the much younger public watching their games on the big screen, Omar Rodriguez / Staff Artist

True panache: Cristal, beluga caviar, fine Italian suits and the two Kobes: beef and Bryant. Kobe Bryant is a velvet battering ram, a powerfully smooth scorer both on the court and off. Not only does he embody pure class, he is the definition of pure class. His tireless hard work on the court is punctuated by his graciousness and humility in victory. Kidding aside, Bryant’s true colors breached the carefully constructed persona Nike’s public relations team — truly some of the most talented people in the world, I tell you — crafted him when he called referee Bennie Adams a “f——— f——-” on national television. Let’s play Taboo: It’s a word that rhymes with “ducking” combined with a rather arcane way to say “bundle of sticks.” You fill in the blanks.

In the interest of full disclosure, I certainly am a “hater.” I realize there is quite a bit of Laker love here in San Diego; criticizing Bryant is like going to Comic-Con and talking loudly about how useless Obi-Wan Kenobi was in the original “Star Wars” movies. I fully understand defending cretin sports stars such as Bryant; I stalwartly defended Barry Bonds for years. As long as he hits at least .300 and drives in a hundred runs I don’t care if he’s a ‘roiding ass with an overinflated sense of self-worth.

Bryant is a force on the court, there’s no doubt about it. He’s an electric scorer with a huge fan base and he continues to be essential to the Lakers success. Bryant is passionate about the game, and even more so about winning. The dark side of his passion is blindingly evident in the 15 technical fouls he has amassed this year, along with his ever-present ‘tude. Bryant’s highly publicized outburst after receiving a technical foul against San Antonio is indicative of the inner boor he has been carefully hiding since 2003. In his rage he reached for the most violently offensive name he could think of, and grabbed hold of a six-letter homophobic slur.

His self-righteous postgame quasi-apology addressed to no one in particular and the subsequent action taken by the NBA reveals the indifference toward racism and homophobia in basketball. The NBA fined Bryant $100,000 for his outburst. Poor guy, he made $24.8 million this year — a little more than $302 thousand per game. Gee NBA, why don’t you just waggle your finger at him and call him a bad boy? Here’s a better idea: Grow a spine and hand him a 10 game ban for undermining a referee’s authority and degrading the entire NBA on national television. It’s not like he represents the U.S. in the Olympics. It’s not as if people look up to Bryant. It’s not like he sells millions of dollars in sponsored sporting equipment, video games, Vitamin Water, expensive watches and Aston Martins because people want to be like him. Absurd as it may be, this man is a role model who plays on TV for millions, and should be held to considerably higher standards than he would like.

Racial and homophobic remarks certainly aren’t limited to basketball. These are distressingly common themes all across professional sports. The ever-present bigotry poses some questions about how we came to idolize these people in the first place. Why do we put professional sports players on a pedestal? Have the youth learned the value of loyalty from LeBron James? Have they realized the importance of faithfulness and monogamy from Tiger Woods? Did Bonds inspire kids to treat fans well, to avoid steroids and tell the truth before a grand jury? Being able to sink a 20-foot jumper, shoot a 68 at Augusta or hit a baseball 450 feet does not make these celebrity figures good people.

Our irrational affection for sports stars makes it even more important to punish them sufficiently for committing a faux pas on the court, field, course, etc. Soccer’s international governing body, FIFA, is on the right track with its FIFA Fair Play Campaign. It aims to force players and coaches to be good role models by threatening them with hefty bans in addition to fines. FIFA will never be able to control widespread racism among fans — sweet Zeus I’ve heard some awful chants — and Fair Play is inconsistently enforced, but it’s a start. If the NBA, the MLB and the NFL can harden up and start to seriously penalize bad behavior, perhaps we can fade out some of this narrow-minded bilge.

Not to say there aren’t a few class acts out there — I’m looking at you, Steve Nash — but often the players who get the most attention are the ones with the biggest egos and nastiest tempers. For the sake of the fans, players and officials targeted by racism and homophobia, the governing bodies in sports need to sack up and govern. In the meantime, I’m going to really enjoy watching either the Hornets or the Thunder show Bryant and the Lake-show the door out of the play-offs.

–John Anderson is an international security and conflict resolution senior.

–The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.

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