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Friday, May 27th, 2011 at 12:56 pm  |  34 responses

Missing the Mark

Why Jeff Van Gundy needs to check himself.

by Adam Sweeney / @AdamSweeney

The Heat, as the pun goes, is on with Miami set to face Dallas in the NBA Finals next week. But there is currently a hotter situation at hand with the fallout over Chicago BullsJoakim Noah‘s use of a homophobic slur directed at a heckler. In an era of progressivism where there has been increasing discussion about the transparency athletes should have in their statement of sexual preference and how an openly homosexual athlete would be treated in the locker room, Noah’s comments offer a glimpse into the notion that the atmosphere would be volatile. Is Noah homophobic? We can’t say and would like to believe the answer is no, but it didn’t stop him from issuing sentiment that is of that idea.

Hot off the topic, The ESPN crew of announcers for Game 4 of the Oklahoma City-Dallas match-up (Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson) decided to take it upon themselves to play the blame game in addressing the unfortunate slur Noah used. Let’s go to the tape for the commentary.

 

It’s incredible that a discussion about an incredibly grave subject could turn into such a comical production. Breen, Van Gundy and Jackson had a landmark opportunity to engage in sincere discourse about the glaring contradiction of the landscape of sports. In a society that now possesses a majority of citizens who are accepting of the gay and lesbian community (as I feel they should be), there still has yet to be a professional male athlete who has come out while he was an active member of a team. That matters, just as the fact that players like Noah and Kobe Bryant, two of the biggest names and personalities in the NBA, felt the need to resort to a verbal act of hatred when they were pushed to their emotional limit. Instead, Jackson and Van Gundy, the latter being the main subject of this column, felt the need to protect grown men in an entirely indefensible situation. The issue isn’t that Joakim Noah got caught on camera using a gay slur. It’s that Noah said the words in the first place. Whether we saw it or not, it would have happened and that’s the unfortunate truth.

In a sport where there are already too many holy cows, (heaven forbid that someone criticizes an official!) there’s no need for announcers to chew cud by mindlessly deflecting blame on to peripheral members of the business. A cameraman who is cutting in on a close-up of a player in the heat of a moment is simply fulfilling his job responsibilities that are handed down to him by his boss. He is an employee who, not coincidentally, is working for the same company that Van Gundy is working for. Blaming the cameraman for cutting to a shot when he is told to is basically the same as blaming a restaurant waiter for bringing you a cold steak. The waiter didn’t cook it. It’s just his or her job to deliver the goods. If Van Gundy really wanted to make a statement, he would have asked why players feel the need to use gay slurs in the first place.

Jeff Van Gundy needs to realize who he is. He is a color commentator. Is he often an insightful and funny illustrator of the game? Definitely. But it’s not his job to play Mother Hen and take the roosters under his wing when they start crowing. Noah and the NBA already dealt with the situation. The topic is worthy of conversation (Why else would we be talking about it?) but in attempting to deflect an act of hate, Van Gundy severely missed the mark. First, it’s not his job to launch into a personal manifesto that is critical of the manner in which the game is presented. He’s not an ombudsman to the game of professional basketball. His job is to add some flair to a broadcast, simple as that.

Furthermore, the NBA, at its best, is a combination of sport and theatre. Without the drama that comes from the images being taken that Van Gundy is so quick to criticize, the analysts would have nothing to talk about. All of it, the cameras, the commentators, even the media, are part of one giant entertaining production. Van Gundy is a cog in the machine, just like us.

The bottom line is that there is absolutely no place in the game for homophobic slurs. If an athlete makes the choice of launching an aggressive and hateful sentence at anyone, be it fan, foe or referee, they should have to own it. Joakim Noah realizes that he lost his cool in the heat of the moment, and that what he did is wrong and the blame falls directly on him. Jeff Van Gundy would be wise to understand that same idea. After all, he’s a student of the game. With more practice, maybe his aim will be more on target in the future.

You can check out more of Adam Sweeney’s work for Playmaker Magazine.

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  • http://www.angryarab.com Tariq

    I haven’t seen the clip of JVG and Jackson discussing the topic, so I can’t really judge what they said. But I just feel that this issue kinda snowballed after the Kobe situation. If I remember correctly, in that game Steve Kerr kept focusing on Kobe’s outburst and Kerr talking about it ultimately led to other media outlets picking up the “story.” After the Kobe situation ballooned into a PR nightmare, the league felt compelled to polish its image by, among other things, running that Grant Hill ad. So that’s why Noah’s situation is getting so much attention. I believe that if Noah’s incident had occurred before the Kobe thing, nobody would have blinked.
    You know, I think that you should never say hateful things or utter slurs or anything like that. I get disgusted when fans in Europe throw bananas on the field at black players. But I think that the word “f@ggot” is not necessarily a slur. I’m thinking of the Chris Rock joke where he differentiates between gay people and f@ggots. Being a f@ggot is not necessarily about sexuality. It can be, if it’s directed at a homosexual man to deliberately question his masculinity. But the word itself is about questioning another man’s “manhood,” regardless of whether that man is gay or straight. Is it crude? Of course. I’m not saying that we should all strive to use the word f@ggot more. But I’m just saying that we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that calling someone whose sexuality is irrelevant a f@ggot in a moment of confrontation is very different from taunting a gay person with that word.

  • http://www.angryarab.com Tariq

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that we give words meaning. The word “fork” could be the most hateful word ever if we all agreed that it means “inferior Mexican” or “lowly Asian” or whatever.

  • http://pickandroll.tumblr.com/ airs

    cosign tariq. i suggest listening to louis C.k.’s take on the word, pretty funny.
    but here’s the thing, we’re calling it a “homophobic” slur when in reality most people say it not even thinking remotely about sexuality in the slightest.
    i, like tariq, don’t condone the word and am not giving it a pass for being okay in normal conversation, but to say that because he said it implies he has a hatred for the gay community is ridiculous, hell i bet people in the gay community use the word the same exact way many others do; sometimes out of frustration or even jokingly.
    i dunno, im sure ppl will disagree with me and i’ll disagree right back with them

  • http://slamonline.com Adam Sweeney

    Hey everyone,

    First off, thanks for the comments. I think it’s a slippery slope when saying that using a word with hateful connotation is more acceptable if its not directed at a particular member of that community. What if someone used the N word to a person who isn’t African-American? It would still be laced with anger and hatred, and it’s certainly inappropriate. I think the fact that people say it without even thinking of what it means is equally as bad as saying it with understanding of its context.

    And to be clear, I never said Noah was homophobic. I can’t see into his heart and would like to believe he is accepting of any individual.

  • bull22

    HAHAHAHAHAHA MOTHER HEN! love that creative comment, HAHAHAHAHAHHHAHAHA

  • http://pickandroll.tumblr.com/ airs

    the N word is a completely different thing. when someone says it in a disrespectful manner there is no question what the person saying it is implying.
    but when a person says f@g, most of the time i do not believe it is meant demean or belittle gay people. it seems to have just taken a meaning completely different than its- for lack of better wording- initial purpose. what makes this so much worse than b!tch, or as$hole when it isn’t meant to degrade a certain group of people.
    but im kind of losing sight of what im really trying to say

  • http://www.angryarab.com Tariq

    Adam:
    So what about if a during the Finals the camera catches, say, Jason Kidd calling someone a b!tch… Should that word be policed due to its misogynistic connotations? What if, following Kidd’s hypothetical utterance, Sportcenter starts to talk about Kidd’s domestic past? And then the NBA runs ads raising awareness about domestic abuse. What if instead of “b!tch,” he says “pu$$y” or “cun+”? I’m not advocating the use of these words, but the fact of the matter is that they ARE in circulation, and when someone uses them it doesn’t mean that the word is used to demean women. In fact, if an NBA player says it during the game, he’ll be more than likely be directing it towards another man. It’s unfortunate and boorish, but it is what it is. The word “nigg#r”, on the other hand, is only used in society in one of two ways: either a person is addressing another person with it as an (inappropriate?) term of endearment akin to “bro” or “dude”. Or it is a derogatory term for black people. And while I wouldn’t mind seeing that term erased from the vernacular altogether, it would be ludicrous to fine NBA players for using the n-word without looking at who’s using it, directed at whom and in what context. The difference between the n-word and words like f@ggot, b!tch, pu$$y, etc, is that the n-word is NEVER used to deride a person, unless that person is black. If Kyle Korver called some fan a “nigg#r,” it would be safe to assume that the fan would be a person of color, and in that scenario it would be appropriate to severely penalize Korver, because it would clearly be a racist utterance. My point is that Noah’s utterance, by your admission, is not necessarily coming from a discriminatory position.

  • http://www.angryarab.com Tariq

    I mean, if Michael Richards had called those hecklers “f@ggots,” I’m pretty sure there wouldn’t have been such a backlash.

  • DG

    The fact of the matter is that for many of us who grew up before this decade, the word was one that was widely used without thought to what it meant. I don’t think I ever once thought of a gay person while using that word growing up – it just became ingrained in our culture and vocabulary. Now that it has become absolutely rightfully stricken from our national lexicon, we can’t just expect it to disappear from our memories. So when Kobe or Noah are in the heat of the moment and their frustration boils over, they’ll call up the word they grew up using as an insult without, I would imagine, considering the true meaning and certainly without considering the consequences. Let’s just honestly consider the fact that for people who grew up when I did (I’m Noah’s age) the word was commonplace, and in times of frustration the muscle memory of its use might occasionally take hold. It doesn’t mean Kobe or Noah are homophobic or hateful or jerks. It means they made a mistake. Obviously it’s wrong to ever use that word. But it is somewhat understandable in moments of unthinking frustration, given the word’s common usage during their formative years.

  • http://twitter.com/BeezKneezy LA Huey

    I don’t think citing a comedian’s act is a fair way to illustrate a point

  • Ronald

    Hmm…out of all commentators you pick on what JVG said? Sigh. What JVG was saying isn’t wrong. He’s just apportioning the blame on the tv networks when they try to capture the “moment” out of players. Is it me or do people put the N word on a pedestal?

  • http://dsjkflf.com Jukai

    Chris Rock also had the skit differentiating between black people and n!$(#rs and the black community nearly threw him out of the public eye.
    Tariq is pretty intelligent, but what he’s saying sort of shows the sadness and complacency of society when it comes to using homosexual slurs, regardless of their connotation. The word f($)*t (I refuse to actually type it out) is a homosexual slur. Just because you aren’t using it as a homosexual slur, doesn’t mean it suddenly isn’t.
    How did using gay and f#*$(t change meanings? People used these words at straight men to either a) bring question to their masculinity or b) call them something they DON’T want to be. In other words, it’s like saying “You are GAY, which is something that is UNACCEPTABLE AND YOU DON’T WANT TO BE!” or “you don’t want to be a F*$, right?”
    That’s the original connotation. If you’re saying it to a straight guy, it was an insult, telling them that they were something that was awful that no one wanted to be.
    Over time, I realized it changed. Over time, I realize many don’t even THINK of actual homosexuals when they say it. But the point is, that’s how it evolved. And the point is, many people do, and it could very well be true that Kobe or Noah have MASSIVE issues with the gay community, and we’re automatically giving them the benefit of the doubt.
    It’s a dangerous issue here.
    As far as using the N-word, you have to understand: using the f-word against your regular joe was how the f-word lost its original connotation. If people start using the N-word to white people and asian people, eventually it’s going to lose its meaning and become just another word. Eventually, you’re going to see Adam Morrison call Robert Swift the N-word, and you’ll see JVG saying “Oh c’mon he doesn’t really hate black people. It’s the cameraman’s fault for even capturing it.”
    That is, if you feel its fair to use the f*($#*t.

  • http://www.angryarab.com Tariq

    Jukai:
    I’m not saying it’s “fair” to use the word f*#*$& (I’m refraining from ‘typing’ it to protect your sensibilities, as it were).
    Masculinity has always been a funny topic to me. Men will find ways to assert whatever qualities they feel are masculine. That’s why so much phallic imagery has accompanied much of the commentary in the aftermath of Bin Laden’s death, for example. The importance of OBL’s death lies in the affirmation of American masculinity. I remember reading a NYT article where American marines had written “Blow THIS up, f@ggot!” on a missile. I think that’s an idiotic way of thinking about your masculinity, but I don’t think those marines were suggesting that terrorists are gay. Again, I’m not saying that using this word or any other word is FAIR. I’m just saying that it’s a word that is in circulation and used in the same way that a word like b!tch or pu$$y is used. I explained why nigg#r is different. It’s different because that particular word can ONLY be used to deride a person of color. If you tried to insult a white person by calling him a nigg#r, it wouldn’t make sense. And this was true even when blacks were regarded as 3/5ths of a human being by the powers that be. That is a crucial difference. So, Jukai, could you please explain to me how f@ggot is different than b!tch or pu$$y? Is being homophobic worse than being sexist?

  • http://www.angryarab.com Tariq

    P.S.
    I’m all for erasing the terms f@ggot, b!tch, pu$$y, etc. from the vernacular.

  • http://dsjkflf.com Jukai

    Tariq: I understood your point, but my is sort of different. Of course those military members didn’t actually think that the Taliban were actually homosexuals (although using an institution that still instates “don’t ask, don’t tell” probably isn’t the best example) but the point is, they were using the term to show that they are the SUPERIOR male, ie: gays are inferior because they aren’t as masculine.
    Once again, we can give the benefit of the doubt to those military men that they never actually had any bad intentions in their mind towards homosexuals… but what they are saying, as you suggested, is “we are the inferior male because you are gay and that is inferior.”
    Regardless if you mean it or not, that is the connotation of what you are saying.
    As for “b#(*$” well, honestly, I can’t tell you the difference. And ever since Allenp brought that up, I’ve cut back on my usage of the word. In my mind, there’s a clear disconnect between said f-word and said b-word, but logically there isn’t… so I’m cutting back.

  • http://dsjkflf.com Jukai

    Also, the final reason I don’t like it is this: we give Kobe and Noah the benefit of the doubt.
    Which is nice.
    But we have no idea what they are really thinking when they say it.

  • http://dsjkflf.com Jukai

    Hmmm…. My post about the n-word didn’t show up. Probably said something that didn’t make it through the censors which had nothing to do with the n-word and f-word… sigh….
    Anyway, I also want to ask you to post here more often, Tariq. It’s so nice to have civil debate. The last time I tried to debate this, the person called me the f-word. Yep.

  • http://www.angryarab.com Tariq

    So if calling someone a f@ggot insinuates that a gay man is inferior, doesn’t calling a man a b!tch or a pu$$y insinuate that women are inferior?
    I’m glad you admit that logic doesn’t support your differentiation between the two terms.

  • http://dsjkflf.com Jukai

    Tariq: Yes, you’re right. This is why I’m trying to stop saying b!tch.
    P*ssy’s a bit different. It had different origins, originally was a word in a different language which meant something to the effect of ‘fat coward.’ I know, crazy right?
    What didn’t make it through the censors was my post about the n-word and the comparison I gave it to the f-word. In it, I gave an alternate reality where white and asian people start getting called the n-word for some sort of stereotypical reason, I think I used laziness. Eventually, the word is so used that the meaning is forgotten and people just fling the n-word around without thinking about it.
    Why would this scenario be more offensive than what has happened with the word gay and the f-word? It’s actually pretty identical.

  • http://www.angryarab.com Tariq

    Jukai:
    In that alternate reality, there would be no difference. In our actual reality, there is.

    The etymology of the word “pu$$y” that you claim is inaccurate.

  • http://www.angryarab.com Tariq

    And I’m glad that YOU are trying to cut down on your use of the word b!tch. That’s not the issue though. The issue is that I find it curious that there is this focus exclusively on the word “f@ggot” by the NBA, and I’m arguing that the current situation is a result of how the Kobe situation ballooned.

    I mean, just look at the Pippen LeBron-MJ tweet. If I’m not mistaken, Pippen clarified that he meant to say that LeBron had the potential to become the greatest player in the world, that he did not mean that he’s better than MJ NOW. With that clarification, Pippen’s remark becomes extremely UNcontroversial. Bron DOES have that potential. But yesterday Sportscenter, Jim Rome, etc. were losing their minds, talking about how Pippen had lost his mind. It had become a “story.” When Chris Bosh said he had “too much energy” before a game in the Boston series, the media ran with the notion that Bosh had said he was “rattled.” The media will look for “stories,” and that Kobe situation became one, simply because of the way Steve Kerr reacted to Kobe’s outburst.

    Look, if Tim Hardaway had been in the lig when he made HIS remarks a few years ago, he would have been rightly punished in a severe way. If you think that the use of the word “f@ggot” by professional athletes is a remarkable phenomenon, I really don’t know what to tell you. And if you want to police that word in particular, I think you should AT LEAST police words that have the exact same value like “b!tch”. The fact that “f@ggot” is somehow regarded as different than “b!tch” strikes me as curious as arbitrary, and your efforts not to use that or any word do not change that.

  • http://dsjkflf.com Jukai

    If you believe that the n-word is worse than the f-word, why don’t you believe that the f-word is worse than the b-word?
    And if you believe they are the same, you have to put the n-word in the same category.
    It’s what I’m trying to say.
    Actually, I guess my main point is: Because the meaning has been so bastardized, people are going to say the word. I’m sure worse words, INCLUDING some minor racial slurs, are said in basketball games all the time. But people shouldn’t get all up in arms “I DON’T SEE WHAT THE BIG DEAL IS” because, well, the big deal is obvious.
    It’s not a remarkable phenomena, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people are gonna get punished. What’s remarkable is that people haven’t been caught by saying this sh*t sooner.

  • http://dsjkflf.com Jukai

    Also, I’ll agree with you that the overreaction in basketball is getting to the point of sheer annoyance, but that also shouldn’t be a surprise phenomenon. It’s been happening slowly for years.
    Finally, the word “P*ssy” as a sexual term comes, from what I’ve read, a European term for ‘purse.’ Which is kinda funny.
    But as an insult, it involved from:
    Pusillanimous
    pu⋅sil⋅lan⋅i⋅mous   /ˌpyusəˈlænəməs/ [pyoo-suh-lan-uh-muhs]
    –adjective
    1. lacking courage or resolution; cowardly; faint-hearted; timid.
    2. proceeding from or indicating a cowardly spirit.

  • http://www.need4sheed.com Tarzan Cooper

    jukai comments like a cancer patient

  • http://fkjslf.com Jukai

    I heart you, Tarzan

  • http://www.angryarab.com Tariq

    1- I’ve read that the term “pu$$y” has an unclear etymology, and that what is known is that, like its counterparts in some European languages, it has always signified a cat as well as female sexual organs. But this really isn’t central to the discussion. And in any case, the first meaning you gave, “lacking courage,” is precisely how it is used now. A man supposedly lacks courage if he is a pu$$y, i.e. “like a woman”
    2- In response to your question: “If you believe that the n-word is worse than the f-word, why don’t you believe that the f-word is worse than the b-word?
    And if you believe they are the same, you have to put the n-word in the same category.”
    I’ve explained my view before. I’m not sure if you’ve carefully read my previous posts or not, but I’ll explain it again: The n-word, when used as an insult, can ONLY be directed at a person of color. If you insult a white person by calling him/her a nigg#r, it wouldn’t make sense. Conversely, both the words f@ggot and b!tch carry the connotation of being derisive towards homosexuals and women respectively, but in practice they ARE used to insult both straight people and men. In other words, if a person uses the n-word as an insult, we CAN’T give them the benefit of the doubt. It can ONLY be construed as a racial slur. The two other words, meanwhile, CAN and ARE used in the same vein as words like a$$hole or something.
    3- What if the camera catches a player calling another player a “sissy” or “fruitcake”?

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    You could insult a white.person by saying that look like a n*gfer, act like n*gger, talk like n@gger and so forth. N@gger was used as both a way to distinguish all black people and certain black people. As Chris Rock used it it means somebody of low worth and ability. It is easy to flip that to insult someone who is not black even if it.means you also insult black people.

  • http://www.angryarab.com Tariq

    Allenp: Point being, usage of the word n@gger as an insult = direct derision of black people.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    But your point about all the other slurs is the same one I made when Kobe did this. My point.was that this was strictly a propaganda move not a move to rid basketball of slurs. Tons of slurs get used on the court.

  • http://www.angryarab.com Tariq

    Allenp: That’s exactly what I’m getting at.

  • http://fkjslf.com Jukai

    Well, two points:
    1- Saying a person is a coward does not equate him to a woman. The sexual usage of the word ‘p*ssy’ derived totally separately from how it is used as an insult. I know some people use it as a demeaning term for homosexuals nowadays, but that gets touchy and difficult since it’s a word which originally meant something different which now can be used at a certain race
    2- To both of you… maybe I’m not getting something, so I’m gonna need to be helped out here… but if you call someone the n-word, it’s a direct derision of black people… how is that different from using the f-word, which is a direct derision of a homosexual?
    Or, let me try and explain it to myself this way- you’re saying that you can throw out the f-word mindlessly without THINKING about homosexuals, while if you throw out the n-word, you’re always thinking of a black person?

  • http://fkjslf.com Jukai

    one correction:
    *to a certain race = to a certain sexual orientation

  • http://www.angryarab.com Tariq

    Jukai:
    The discussion is going around in circles. I’ve already explained my view twice. If you don’t buy it, that’s fine, but I’m done.

  • http://www.angryarab.com Tariq

    The only thing I’ll add is this:
    You have two friends: John and Dave.
    John gets into a fight, during which he calls the other guy a n#gger.
    Dave gets into a fight, during which he calls the other guy a f@ggot.
    Which one is more likely to be a bigot? Which one could you give the benefit of the doubt?

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