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Pacers' Hibbert Fined $75K For 'Gay Slur,' NBA Flexes Muscles

Jeremy Bergman |
June 3, 2013 | 12:59 p.m. PDT

Senior Sports Editor

Hibbert has solidified himself as a respected big man in the NBA (Wikimedia Commons)
Hibbert has solidified himself as a respected big man in the NBA (Wikimedia Commons)
In anticipation of tonight's vital and hopefully historic Game 7 between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, there is only one story that ESPN, Twitter, and most of the sports world are abuzz about.

Chris "Birdman" Anderson's return to the lineup post-suspension? Nope.

Paul George's emergence as a formidable star in place of the near-forgotten Danny Granger? Not quite.

King James' pathetic acting skills, not even worthy of a Michael Bay movie? I wish, but no, again.

Instead, the most significant happening and story of the past 48 hours has been the NBA's fining of Roy Hibbert for $75,000 (!) for his utterance of a "gay slur" and "using inappropriate and vulgar language."

In a post game interview following the Pacers' dominant Game 6 victory over the Heat, Hibbert said, "There was Game 3 here that I felt I let Paul [George] down in terms of having his back when LeBron was scoring in the post or getting into the paint because they stretched me out so much — no homo — but I want to be there for him."

Within an hour of that press conference being held, news outlets, most notably ESPN, reported that Hibbert had used a "gay slur" and should expect a fine.

The next day, Hibbert issued a formal - and by formal, I mean spell-checked and written by the Pacers' public relations official so as to never possibly offend anyone anywhere at any period of time, period - apology, claiming "[My comments] 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."

Despite the intention of regret in his apology, the NBA decided to fine Hibbert anyways. $75K may be chump change to the most dominant big man in the postseason, who is earning $13.7 million this year alone, but it is a large sum of money nonetheless, and a symbol of how seriously the NBA takes any personal conduct infraction, even if the player in question did or said nothing so damaging or offensive.

This is the case with Hibbert, a well-intentioned intelligent rising star in the league, who now must carry the burden of these unnecessarily excessive fine into the greatest battle of his career tonight.

Personally, I see no reason for Hibbert to be fined and be disciplined for his "no homo" comment, in particular. I am most likely in the minority here, but it's important to reevaluate why sports industries fine their players and what it means when they do so.

The term "no homo" is a phrase used in personal jest when something you say may frame you as a homosexual; but despite my serious definition, "no homo" is never taken seriously. It's a throwaway phrase, a joking acknowledgment of one's own unintentional innuendo, a comment on phrasing more so than sexuality. Most importantly, it's self-damning, not gay-damning.

But apparently, shortening the scientific and legitimate word "homosexual" into any non-literal context is immediately offensive to all gay people, even if the intent is in no way offensive or homophobic. 

The NBA has fined its players for using homophobic slurs before, most famously Kobe Bryant.

In 2011, Bryant was called for a technical foul and in his anger, yelled directly at a referee, and then visibly mumbled to himself, "F**king f*ggot." Although the homophobic term is used widely during games, as well as many others, and goes unpunished, Bryant's act was caught on national television, in a close-up. Bryant was fined $100,000 for the comment, and he rightly apologized. 

So speaking monetarily and linguistically, how is uttering a joking slang that uses the shortened version of the unbiased word "homosexual" even comparable in affect or fine-ability to yelling at an individual and calling him a "f**king f*ggot" to his face with the intent of him feeling your immediate hatred? Are these two acts even in the same ballpark, or rather, arena?

The NBA can't afford to let slide any homophobic suggestions after Collins came out in April. (Rick Holmes/Creative Collins)
The NBA can't afford to let slide any homophobic suggestions after Collins came out in April. (Rick Holmes/Creative Collins)
But here's the difference between Kobe's act in 2011 and Hibbert's comment just two days ago: Jason Collins.

When Jason Collins, an active NBA veteran, came out less than a month ago, the National Basketball Association officially assumed a deep and self-affirming responsibility to protect and support homosexuality and condemn anyone who said otherwise. The NBA's cause and intention is just and right - any athlete worthy of playing in any league has the right to do so regardless of his or her sexual orientation; we've been through that already. 

The league's most recent execution of this philosophy, on the other hand, is misguided, paranoid, and repressive. 

Hibbert's comment did not aggressively target the gay community or suggest that he is a homophobe, but the NBA, in an effort to save face it had never lost, punished him for his free-wielding tongue. 

It appears we have reached the point in the relationship between American athletes and American sports journalists, where nothing can be said without Big Brother watching and waiting. The players believe they are playing and speaking for themselves, but the hidden hammers held by David Stern, Roger Goodell, and others reinforce that these individuals are league puppets; and if they speak one wrong or controversial word, the honchos will have no problem cutting their strings. 

The repressive and curbing nature of the NBA upon its athletes evidently has continued and strengthened since Stern enacted the pre-game dress code in 2005 in an effort to limit the self-expression of his athletes, gentrifying them and providing the post-Malice-at-the-Palace audience a fabricated image of order. The professional basketball athlete has, since then, been seen as one who must be controlled - neutered and muzzled.

So Hibbert has been neutered and muzzled, like a pit bull chained to his hut, only to be released for his next bloodthirsty battle against a like-treated dog. 

Hibbert's fining reinforces the idea that NBA players are just promotional products of the league and symbols of the league's ideology. This molded behavior is reinforced by fines so as to perfect post-game, pre-game, practice, and lunch-time language and conversation until it is satisfying nothingness. 

The league has no tolerance for any opinion outside of the gentrified and accepted norm, and apparently for any unintentional phrases that could maybe, possibly, almost be perceived as somewhat, minutely offensive. 

Hibbert's comments were ill-timed, but never in poor taste, a mistake not worthy of a massive fine or a national condemnation. But as long as Commissioner Commissar Stern and the NBA come out of their own rubble seen as social do-gooders, then the liberties of their rising stars matter not.

Unless it's Lebron, and then nothing, not even this, could be deemed five-figures offensive. 

Reach Senior Sports Editor Jeremy Bergman via e-mail or on Twitter @JABergman.



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