June 16th, 1996—Father’s Day: Michael Jordan wins the NBA title for the first time since his father’s death. An emotional Jordan weeps in the locker room, endearingly hugging the trophy like he would his father. Reporters and teammates surround him and congratulate him, but all Jordan is focused on is the trophy—his gift from dad.
That moment will stay in my mind forever because it was the first time I saw my role model cry.
It was then that I realized that athletes are emotional people. They have to be. Without emotion, players would be useless. Emotions drive athletes into unbelievable stages and create the most memorable moments in sports.
Unfortunately, they can also take over at the worst possible time.
Kobe Bryant was a victim of this when he spoke the words “f***ing f***ot” in front of a nationwide audience. Within a second, everyone started bashing him and calling him homophobic. Now, even though these people are entirely in the right to be upset, we have to remember that Kobe is not the first player to mutter these fateful words during a game.
Kevin Garnett did the exact same thing on an even bigger stage back in 2008, during Game 3 of the Celtics/Cavaliers playoff series, but he was never fined or criticized for it. Why? It was captured on television and broadcast across the nation for everyone to see. His lips were easy enough to read and it’s clear that he was saying what we all thought he was. So why wasn’t Kevin Garnett shamed with the title of “homophobe?”
The f-word is just as hurtful today as it was three years ago, so why is Kobe Bryant being treated so differently than the other athletes before him?
By no means am I suggesting that Bryant should not be fined or that it is acceptable to use a derogatory word because you are overcome with emotion. All I’m saying is that in the heat of the moment, while under pressure, even the top athletes let their emotions get the best of them.
Bryant could not control his emotions just like Jordan couldn’t control his after he solidified the NBA championship on Father’s Day. It’s unfortunate that Kobe’s emotions turned into a negative remark—one that demeaned an entire group of people, but we all say things we don’t really mean and do things we can't really control.
Every single one of us know the words and names we shouldn’t say, whether they are sexuality-focused, race-focused or something entirely different. We know we shouldn’t use them, but the majority of us have without even thinking. We yell at loved ones, curse at those we care about, comment about those we don’t know and say things we wish we could take back. You can call it a Freudian slip or a hateful comment, but what it truly is is a mistake.
Nobody in this world is perfect and that includes our role models and athletes.
Bryant is a great leader on the court and that’s because he throws his entire heart into the game. When someone is that dedicated and cares that much about a single thing, then they tend to lose sight on everything else. In Kobe’s case, it was his composure. He let his emotions take over and he screwed up. It's as simple as that.
Was he wrong for saying what he did? Absolutely. Should he be fined for his actions? Without a doubt. Should we forgive him? Yes.
We all make mistakes. We’re just lucky enough not to have them televised for the world to see. So maybe we should try to eliminate these words from our own vocabulary first before we start pointing the finger at somebody else.
It’s easy to criticize others when there is no one there to criticize you.