Wrong in every context

by Beacon Staff • April 21, 2011

At issue: Homophobic language

Our take: Pejorative terms should not be pardoned because speaker “didn’t mean it.” 

Sometimes people say things they probably don’t mean.

Last week on the Joy Behar Show, Maria Menounos, who attended Emerson between 1999 and 2002, participated in a round-table discussion regarding Kobe Bryant’s recent outburst, after which the NBA star was reprimanded and fined for calling a referee a “f**king fag.”

Menounos seemed to imply that Bryant’s use of the gay slur “faggot” should be judged by its intention, rather than its effect, when she said, “You have to understand that dynamic on the court. They all say horrible things.”

In what appears to be an attempt to give Bryant the benefit of the doubt, Menounos said, “Where I grew up in Boston that term was always associated with “jerk;” it was never a homophobic term.”

Perhaps she’s right—he might not have meant to be homophobic. In fact, Bryant has released an apology claiming that, “The words expressed do not reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were not meant to offend anyone."

Yet what Bryant said is offensive. And destructive. Gay teenagers do not question their self-worth because of being called the equivalent of “jerk.”

When contacted by Beacon reporters, the Access Hollywood reporter’s publicist said her client in no way condones Bryant’s vulgarity. We at the Beacon believe her.

Menounos, the founder of “Take Action Hollywood!,” a campaign designed to use the power of the entertainment industry to educate people about issues spanning from hate crimes and AIDS prevention to gang violence and the environment, clearly has an interest in helping raise awareness and putting a stop to discrimination and social injustices.

Still, the discussion on the Behar show serves as an important reminder to our community of how careful we ought to be.

Emerson is a school full of burgeoning big voices—voices with the potential to have extraordinary societal weight. Whether we leave this campus to become NBA stars, New York Times journalists, Broadway performers, or Access Hollywood reporters, this incident serves as a reminder that there is no such thing as being too prepared to speak clearly and unflinchingly when it comes to our values.

What Kobe Bryant said is wrong. It’s wrong on the basketball court. It’s wrong when you’re angry. It’s wrong in Los Angeles. And it’s wrong in Boston, too.