Joakim Noah Fined $50,000 for Use of Homophobic Slur: NBA Has Eye on Wrong Ball

Byron on SportsCorrespondent IMay 24, 2011

Noah's face probably looked similar to this when he heard about the size of the fine.
Noah's face probably looked similar to this when he heard about the size of the fine.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

This article contains reference to language that some may find offensive. If you are easily offended, please read another article. I have no intention to offend anyone. Terms of profanity have been partially redacted, since it is unnecessary to restate the entirety of a term to catch the gist.

Summary of What Happened

Joakim Noah is now $50,000 lighter in the pocket as a result of the use of profanity toward a fan during the Sunday, May 22, 2011 NBA Playoff game between the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls. This is an unfortunate incident.

The portion of the profane statement used towards the fan is a noun, starting with the letter "F" that is often used as a derogatory term referencing homosexuals. However, the portion of the statement that was likely most "offensive" would seem to be the "F*** you" portion of the statement.

Noah has acknowledged saying "something" to a fan.

He claimed he was caught up in emotion and, also, claimed that he meant no disrespect.

The acknowledgement and the first claim ring true, yet the third claim does not. He obviously meant to disrespect the fan. No one is fooled there. It is highly doubtful that he really thought or meant to imply that the fan was actually a homosexual or a partaker in homosexual activities.

It is very difficult even discuss the subject, without redacting letters and walking on tiptoe for fear that one word will be taken out of context and the term homophobic will be apply to the exploration of the issue. Please read this article for what it is and comment understanding that I never received a degree in political correctness.

In my opinion, the NBA should be applauded for efforts it makes to keep the most incendiary forms of "hate speech" off the air and, especially, out of the stadium.

There is the real possibility of riots, altercations, and injury that can result from a “no holds barred” attitude towards abusive, defamatory, disparaging language, or unchecked hate speech.

Would he have been fined even one-third of that sum if he had barked, “F*** you, midget!" at the same fan? The fan was most likely shorter than Joakim, so the use of the particular noun would have been relevant and might have been sensitive about his height when seated so close to a group of tall people.

What if Noah shouted, "F*** you, c***su***er!" at the same fan instead? Would the fine have been half the amount he was fined?  

I think the real question is: If any of the other three phrases had been uttered, would there have been any fine at all?

Kobe Got Caught First

Kobe Bryant was recently fined $100,000 for the use of the similar term in a tirade against a referee. This is an incredibly high fine. But, Kobe actually earns from all his activities more than five times what Joakim Noah earns, so relatively speaking Kobe Bryant was fined a lot less than Noah.

This is a link to video of the Kobe Bryant incident (video may contain language offensive to some). For some it is hard to see $100,000 there without the FCC involved. 

Yet, it is a challenge to see appropriateness of the hefty fine levied against Noah or Bryant for these incidents. Every fan sitting in the stands is hearing worse from the fans around them than what very few heard from the players on the bench.

Part of the reason fines seem excessive is because the NBA really does not seem to care whether or not anyone was offended for any real reason. They are tuning into a single word and making a large issue out of one that most fans see as minor (or even a non-issue). The other F-word is heard on half the missed shots and a third of the rebounds

 GLSEN Word Play Commercial

Recently, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the Ad Council and the NBA teamed up to make the Word Play Commercial (video link). 

This commercial knocked me for a loop. The term they are trying to get people not use in this instance is "Gay." This term was not redacted, because (as of yet) it is not widely regarded as a slur. 

The use of the "N-word" and the word "Cr*ck*r" came to mind, when watching this commercial. If you watch the commercial again and substitute the "N" or the "C" word for each use of the word gay, you may also see how odd the commercial was.

Keep in mind the name of the sponsoring organization is the "Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network."

The next aspect of the ad that struck me as odd was the focus on "gay" as an offensive word when there are so many terms that the greater audience would find far more derogatory terms that are used by children everyday. 

Samantha Steele Question on Twitter

Rick Chandler wrote an article title, "Off the Bench: Reporter asks why Noah's slur offensively" criticizing a Fox College Sports sideline reporter for asking via twitter:

"Can someone please clarify these Kobe/J Noah fines. What is the rule? You can’t say anything offensive? Offensive to whom?" 

He gets a little heavy handed in the piece and tries to assert that Steele is a "homophobe" or that anyone who finds her question to be valid might be. I can understand what he is trying to say, however, Steele asked, "What is the rule?" That is a pretty fair question.

Chandler continues by advancing the assumption that "presumably" Steele is requesting a list of "all offensive terms ever uttered by humans, and their corresponding NBA fines." It is a stretch to get that form the tweet, but lets hypothesize he is correct and that is what Steele seeks. 

To me, that sounds like a good idea and a "Samantha" list can be left open ended for "special considerations.” A list, such as that, sounds like a pretty good idea to help clarify matters.

Chandler uses this as his description of objectionable language: "Any profane expletive based on a person’s race, religion or sexual preference, aimed at that person during an NBA event, is cause for sanction."

The problem with Chandler's definition is that the way Joakim Noah and Kobe Bryant used the language does not seem to meet muster with the criteria Chandler’s definition. Neither Kobe nor Joakim used an expletive directed at anyone "based on (actual or apparent) race, religion or sexual preference..." 

The terms were used with disdain, but there is nothing that indicates that the sexual preference of the target was the cause for the selection of the term. So, even if it was offensive by intent, there is limited, if any, cause to see the selected form of address to be homophobic.

Chandler goes on to say, “It’s what’s called living in a tolerant society." Rick Chandler seems rather intolerant of Samantha Steele's tweet, but that is an aside.

Closing Thoughts and Questions

Joakim Noah did appear to be responding to "something" derogatory that was said to him. His response used some unattractive vernacular and that was unfortunate. In his defense, it appeared that he was actually the victim of the attack and, after the dust settled, the victim of the heavy handed fine squad of the NBA.

Nonetheless, there are still questions:

1. Why would Kobe Bryant be fined a greater absolute amount for a disparaging remark against an official when he was on the bench, than Joakim Noah was for disparaging a fan and paying patron of the NBA business (he was of course fined a greater relative amount, so that question is partially answered)?

2. When did the term "Fa**ot" supplant "F*** you" as the most inflammatory part of a sentence containing both terms?

3. What if he said, "Screw you, retard," instead? There are millions of people who, through no fault of their own, live in this country every day with a diminished IQ. Would there be any fine at all?

4. What if a fan said that to a player? Would the fan be the target of any repercussions? 

Each of us is entitled to our own opinion on this matter. The truth is (based on current judicial review); this is a country of free opinions and restricted speech. In general, the courts have done a fairly good job of walking that tight rope. My opinion is that the media and the National Basketball Association have not done nearly as well.

The excessive attention the vernacular used Bryant and Noah is unwarranted. To describe the verbal outbursts that they made as "homophobic" is the result of viewing the world and the actions of celebrities through dung covered glasses.

Parting Questions

What if you substitute the "B" word (think female dog) directed at a man, for the new "F" word directed at a person of unknown sexual orientation, identity, or preference?

Would there be the same reaction by the league or the media?

Is what Joakim Noah said better construed as "anti-gay" or "anti-a**hole"?


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