The NBA has fined New York Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire $50,000 for calling a fan a “fag” on Twitter. The fan, who criticized Stoudemire’s performance in an earlier tweet, received a direct message response from Stoudemire containing the slur. Direct messages are meant to be seen by only the sender and the recipient, but the fan took a screenshot and made the offensive message public.
The NBA has seen its share of homophobic outbursts lately. Last year, Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for calling a referee a “fucking faggot” during a temper tantrum. Joakim Noah received a $50,000 fine for directing that same sentiment at a fan during a playoff game weeks later, pledging to “learn from it.”
And while professional sports have not historically been a bastion of gay rights, the NBA has used its economic power to communicate that homophobic remarks are unacceptable and unprofessional. In the wake of the Bryant scandal, the NBA launched a “Don’t Say Gay” campaign. The ad — which seems to reframe Kobe’s comment as a more innocuous slip of the word “gay” instead of the less TV-friendly “fucking faggot” — is indeed a step in the right direction.
That said, homophobia in sports will persist as a major issue as long as athletes see gay people as a distinct “other,” nowhere to be found in the team locker room. That there are gay athletes currently playing in the NBA is a statistical certainty. There are, however, no openly gay athletes currently on an NBA roster — or in any of the “big four” sports for that matter. And perhaps this is what it will take to truly turn the tide from fines to acceptance in professional sports. Put simply by Charles Barkley, “I’d rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can’t play.”
Stoudemire has since apologized for the offensive tweet. “I am a huge supporter of civil rights for all people. I am disappointed in myself for my statement to a fan,” he said. “I should have known better and there is no excuse.”