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Students question alumna Maria Menounos’ defense of using gay slur

by Xakota Espinoza / Beacon Staff • April 21, 2011

Last week the NBA fined Kobe Bryant $100,000 after the Los Angeles Lakers star was caught hurling a homophobic word at a referee, sparking intense media debate over his use of the slur “faggot.”

Amid an impassioned discussion on the Joy Behar Show last Friday, Emerson alumna Maria Menounos, an Access Hollywood reporter serving as a panelist, said that while she doesn’t condone using the word, such pejorative language can be common in the heat of a game.

“These players are so intense and this is what goes on.” Menounos said.

As three panelists talked over each other in the rapid-fire skull session, Menounos said that, in her hometown, the gay slur was usually flung around as a general insult.

“Where I grew up in Boston that term was always associated with ‘jerk,’ it was never a homophobic term,” she said.

Menounos’ spokesperson said Menounos was not defending Bryant’s behavior.

“She does not feel that it’s okay for people to speak like that on the court,” the BWR Public Relations representative, said in an telephone interview with the Beacon. “She’s a huge supporter of the LGBT community.”

Sophomore Tau Zaman said he believes Menounos’ statement on the show was incorrect.

“Having worked as [Student Government Association] LGBTQ Commissioner last year, I saw this pattern many times: blaming it on the nature of things rather than trying to fix it,” he said after a Beacon reporter sent him a link to the video-clip. “It’s like saying, ‘boys will be boys,’ in response to sexual harassment against women.”

Other students echoed Zaman’s sentiment.

Adriana Guida, president of Emerson Alliance for Gays Lesbians and Everyone (EAGLE) said she believes Menounos was wrong to rationalize the slur as common language on the basketball court.

“That is the worst defense (and it is an excuse, a defense) of players using homophobic language, that it is part of the culture,” the junior political communication major said in an email. “We need to treat this like we would if Kobe had used any other slur aimed at a particular group.”

Junior Alex Dempsey, a member of the college’s basketball team, said the use of derogatory terms are definitely different while playing sports.

“I don’t think [Bryant] meant it in a homophobic way,” the visual and media arts major said. “I don’t use [the word] but I guess certain players use it on the court. I think [the punishment] was pretty fair though.”

Junior Alex Castillo said the word “faggot” has a clear, deragatory meaning.

“Regardless of the context in which the ‘f-word’ is used, its root as a homophobic slur is unquestionable,” said the political communication major. “While I would expect someone such as Menounos to look at Bryant’s use of the word more critically, I’m interested to hear an expanded explanation of her view.”

Freshman Isabella Setaro said she believes Menounos was merely providing an alternative perspective.

“I think she was trying to understand the situation rather than defending him,” the writing, literature, and publishing major said.

Guida said she still supports Menounos impending trip to Emerson, where she is slated to receive an alumni distinction award at this year’s EVVY Awards, an annual large-scale student-run award show.

“I know she has been here in the past, and I don’t think this one thing should change any of those plans,” she said.

Menunous’ representative added that, “[Menounos was] in no way taking away from the seriousness of the comment Kobe made. She was just saying that it can be interpreted in different ways.”

During the discussion on the Behar Show Menounos said she was not defending Bryant, though she did not consider him homophobic.

“Believe me I love my gay boys more than anything,” she said.