Kobe Bryant Punishment Underscores the UFC's Problem with Homophobia

Tuesday night Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant couldn't control his baser instincts. In the third quarter of a heated game with the San Antonio Spurs, Bryant was hit with a technical foul and went ballistic. The Los Angeles Times has the story:

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant punched his chair, threw his towel and then threw an anti-gay slur at referee Bennie Adams amid frustration for picking up his 15th technical foul of the season Tuesday during the Lakers-Spurs game.

Then came the defiance.

The TNT telecast captured Bryant's outburst. Analyst Steve Kerr noted, "You might want to take the cameras off of him right now, for the children watching from home." And the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, said in a release, "What a disgrace for Kobe Bryant to use such horribly offensive and distasteful language, especially when millions of people are watching."

The universal condemnation was quick and forceful. Gay rights groups spoke out against Bryant's casual use of the slur and NBA Commissioner David Stern stepped in wielding a very large hammer:

Stern issued a swift disciplinary ruling after the five-time NBA champion guard cursed and used a common homophobic slur when referee Bennie Adams called a technical foul on him Tuesday night in the third quarter of Los Angeles' win over the Spurs.

"Kobe Bryant's comment during last night's game was offensive and inexcusable," Stern said. "While I'm fully aware that basketball is an emotional game, such a distasteful term should never be tolerated. ... Kobe and everyone associated with the NBA know that insensitive or derogatory comments are not acceptable and have no place in our game or society."

Kobe Bryant ended up being fined $100,000. As an MMA fan, it was interesting to watch it all unfold. Because I can tell you exactly what would have happened if the same thing occured in the UFC's Octagon. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I was at the UFC's post fight press conference after UFC 114 and watched the following exchange between UFC President Dana White and British star Michael Bisping:

BISPING: He put the Vasoline on and got a real good (bit) of it in my eye there and I was standing there and there's thousands of people and millions at home on TV and I'm like, 'I don't want to look like a faggot like I don't want to get in there...'"

WHITE: He didn't mean that, he didn't mean that word. Learn from my mistakes.

BISPING: You know what I'm saying.

WHITE: They don't, trust me.

White and the media cracked up. Of course, Bisping learned no lessons. Early this year before his fight with Jorge Rivera, Bisping taunted the Alchemist MMA fighter with the same homophobic slur, calling him a f*ggot during the UFC 127 weigh ins. Again, White just smiled at the theatre of it all. MMA Fighting's Michael David Smith believes homophobic slurs are bad for the sport. Bloody Elbow's Matt Bishop agrees:

The UFC is lucky Bisping using the word "faggot" has not come back to bite them yet (especially considering they published the video with him using it the second time, which might be even more mind-boggling to me than Bisping's use of the word). What's more troubling is that almost nobody seems to care. This is a big deal.

Actions like this (and the lack of public reprimand) are why the UFC still has a long way to go if it wants to be considered one of the world's big boys in sports. Can you even imagine NFL commissioner Roger Goddell taking the same actions as Dana White has in regards to Bisping? White's laissez-faire approach is the wrong one. Goodell gets some flack sometimes, but above all else, you know he's trying to clean up the NFL. If Bisping was in the NFL and pulling this stuff, Goddell would bring down the hammer on him. He's not, though, and it seems the UFC isn't even giving him a slap on the wrist.

Bisping and other UFC stars feel bullet proof. And why shouldn't they? White himself has created a public conflagration with his own inappropriate comments, as SB Nation MMA Editor Luke Thomas pointed out at the time on Bloody Elbow:

The day after the face of MMA called Loretta Hunt a "dumb fucking bitch" and her anonymous source a "faggot", the UFC (or whoever is in charge of these video blogs) removed the video. I am certainly not the word police and don't believe we should ask for White's head. I also don't think dragging him out before the public to get some manufactured apology is going to rememdy any situation. The only salient issue moving forward is whether White is capable of respecting the parameters of entry into the mainstream. If yesterday is any indication, you have plenty of cause for concern.

And on the day that Dana White called an anonymous source a "faggot", I wondered how the gay employees of the UFC felt. I know fighters are perceived as "independent contractors" (hee haw), but let's assume they are part of the UFC family. While the self-selection effect is going to remove some statistical normalcy here, let's assume on the low end 1% of the population is gay, which would mean its possible at least a handful of UFC employees - from the production crew, to PR, to the fighters, etc - are homosexual. I wonder how they felt to hear their boss equate femininity, character weakness and obsequiousness with their identity.

Their boss is no role model. And, when fighters step out of line nothing is done. When announcer Joe Rogan taunted MMA reporter Tomas Rios with the same slur? Nothing.  When star Quinton "Rampage" Jackson routinely drops gay slurs? Nothing.  When WEC star Donald Cerrone calls out his arch enemy Jamie Varner for his "true colors?" Nothing.

This despicable language is embedded right into the core of MMA culture. It speaks loudly through t-shirts adorned with skulls and bones and Nazi imagery and through the rhetoric of hate. Maybe it's a response to mocking fun sometimes had at a figher's expense; after all when your sport includes a mount, rear mount, and "69" position, it's easy to have homosexuality on the brain.

Whatever the reason, it has to stop. David Stern set the right example for White and UFC owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta. Action must be swift and meaningful. We can't afford to look like a sport filled with homophobic meatheads. We fight against those stereotypes every day without making it harder with hateful slurs. And- more importantly - it's the right thing to do. It's time to clean up the culture. Dana, we're looking at you to lead the way, with actions as well as words.

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