The Trial of Roy Hibbert: Homophobia or Just Bad Comedy?
[dropcap]Y[/dropcap]ou have undoubtedly seen or heard the excerpts from Saturday night’s postgame press conference following game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in which Roy Hibbert, when asked how he finished tenth in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting, dropped an f-bomb on live TV, a mother-f-bomb to be exact. If you haven’t (what have you been doing?), here’s the transcript:
“You know what, ’cause y’all motherfuckers don’t watch us play throughout the year, to tell you the truth. All right? So, that’s fine. Ya know. I’mma be real with you. And I don’t care if I get fined. All right? Because, you know what, we play, we’re not on TV all the time, and reporters are the ones that are voting. And, it is what it is. If I don’t make it, that’s fine.”
Regardless of how you feel about the language used, the common refrain following this exchange was “good on you Roy, tell it like it is, keep it real, etc, etc.” It was midnight on basic cable after all, and how many kids past the age of 5 haven’t heard the word “fuck” on TV, in movies, or hell, from their own parents (lots of bad parenting going on out there)?
As fans of the Pacers (or Bulls, or even just casual observers of the NBA), we understood the inherent truth in his comments. The national media, even as recently as this week, have dismissed the Pacers as a good story but ultimately not talented enough to challenge the big boys. It was vindicating to see our guy, Roy Hibbert, a man who has been routinely labeled soft and weak-willed, stand up to the big, bad media who treat the Pacers, and their league best defense, like an afterthought, barely worthy of consideration let alone adulation.
If he’d stopped there the night would have been a rousing success. Beat the Heat in a game very few expected them to win, push an already epic series to its rightful conclusion (the rare, and impossibly exciting, conference finals game 7), and put the media in its place in the process. Perfect.
Unfortunately, Roy did not stop there.
By failing to quit while he was ahead, Roy brought down a world of distractions on a young Pacers team about to play the biggest game of their lives. Here’s the transcript:
“I really felt that I let Paul down in terms of having his back when LeBron was scoring in the post or getting to the paint, because they stretched me out so much — no homo.”
I don’t think I have to tell you which part of this comment has erupted into unbridled controversy. Some national columnists going so far as to call for Hibbert’s suspension. Dave Zirin, of The Nation magazine, even claimed the following in a piece he posted yesterday morning:
“There are kids who kill themselves because of a lifetime of hearing ‘no homo’.”
Aside from the fact that Dave Zirin doesn’t seem to understand how the term “no homo” is used in pop culture (see the video below for a better explanation than I could hope to provide), calling it a “gay slur” is one thing (though still inaccurate in my opinion), it’s something entirely different to claim that the use of the term drives children to suicide.
Look, I am not a homosexual myself (hopefully that admission doesn’t offend anyone), and even if I was I would not claim to speak for all homosexuals (they do not all think the same way and it’s offensive to me personally when so many people want to lump them together as if they do), but pointing out the humorous double entendre or sexual innuendo that could potentially be construed from a comment is not, in my humble opinion, equivalent to slurring or bashing homosexuals any more than following the phrase “there’s no way it’s going to fit” with “that’s what she said” makes you a misogynist.
Hell, The Office, and its lovably idiotic protagonist, Michael Scott, made the phrase “that’s what she said” a national obsession, to the point that it’s not uncommon, even now, years later, to hear it once or twice a week in general conversation, often in a professional environment (usually followed by a chuckle or two and a pat on the back). Entertainment mega-site, IGN.com, even did a top 10 list commemorating their favorites.
Is that sort of humor juvenile? Absolutely. Is it appropriate to be used in a public forum on national television? Definitely not. But does it make you a homophobe or woman-hater to make light of sexuality, in any form? I think that’s taking political correctness too far. What is humor without a little edge to it, without a hint of social subversiveness? Hibbert did not imply that homosexuality was abhorrent or even distasteful, he simply pointed out the potential comedy in taking the phrase “stretched me out” to suggest an act of homosexual copulation. Sexually explicit, yes, perhaps even offensive to some, but not anti-gay.
Based on what we know of Roy Hibbert, I have a very hard time imagining that he feels anything approaching homophobia. In fact, he was a vocal supporter of Jason Collins when he came out last month, saying:
“I have no problem with openly gay men. More power to them. We live in a day and age where people are more accepting as opposed to years ago. Him and his family may have some adversity in the coming days and weeks, but I have no problem with it.”
Of course, being the sensitive and thoughtful guy that he is (honestly, there probably isn’t a nicer guy in the NBA than Roy Hibbert, just ask any member of his Area 55 fan section), Hibbert quickly issued an apology (and by all accounts a genuine one):
“I am apologizing for insensitive remarks made during the postgame press conference after our victory over Miami Saturday night. They were disrespectful and offensive and not a reflection of my personal views. I used a slang term that is not appropriate in any setting, private or public, and the language I used definitely has no place in a public forum, especially over live television. I apologize to those who I have offended, to our fans and to the Pacers’ organization. I sincerely have deep regret over my choice of words last night.”
For better or worse (my money is on better, though the growing pains will be real) we live in a post-Jason Collins sports culture now, where even the slightest hint of homophobia is unacceptable. Hibbert should have known that and chosen his words more carefully, and in that sense the apology was absolutely warranted. It was a foolish thing to say even if his comments were meant to simply point out the humorous double-meaning of a phrase and in no way to imply or express a denigration of homosexuality. This isn’t 2010, when even the MVP himself, LeBron James, used the term “no homo” casually in an interview and the media neither noticed nor cared:
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The NBA was swift and unforgiving in its punishment. Hibbert was levied a fine of $75,000 for his comments though fortunately avoided a suspension (which was probably never on the table given that Kobe Bryant once called a referee a “fucking f**got” during a game in 2011 and was not suspended).
The fine seems justified if for no other reason than to send a message that the NBA has turned a corner. Whatever locker room jokes or off-color humor you think is funny, or was acceptable in the past, keep it out of the public arena (especially while on the job), better yet, don’t say it at all. It’s an important message to send, and, at roughly 22 minutes worth of Roy’s annual income, not one that will destroy Hibbert financially or torpedo the Pacers’ chances of reaching the NBA Finals.
In the end, Hibbert screwed up. He used a phrase that probably needs to be retired, and definitely shouldn’t be spoken in the presence of mixed company. No matter how you want to frame it, the term “no homo” does carry with it a pejorative connotation, whether intended by the speaker or not, and while it wasn’t that funny when it first became popular it certainly isn’t funny now. I just don’t believe that a career filled with community outreach, unprecedented fan access, and consistently entertaining, intelligent interviews (not to mention an unbelievable series and incredible play on the court) should be overshadowed by a thoughtless, off-the-cuff joke bred from an innocent ignorance of cultural climate change and which contained no ill-will or malicious intent.
With all this controversy and social commentary dominating the headlines, it’s easy to forget that the Indiana Pacers are about to play in a game to reach the NBA Finals for only the second time in franchise history, and the first in over a decade. So with that in mind I leave you with this fantastic moment from game 6:
— Josh Boeke (@Colt_Following) June 2, 2013
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Thanks again for reading and hopefully by this time tomorrow we will be discussing the Pacers making it back to the NBA Finals!