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While the fight to grant gay and lesbian citizens the right to marriage continues in our country, the topic of homophobia in sports has taken center stage with the recent incidents involving NBA stars Joakim Noah and Kobe Bryant.

In the last month, Bryant and Noah were fined for something that happens on every ball court from New York City to the barnyard hoops in Indiana – calling someone a “fa**ot.” Ever since both athletes were caught on camera saying the word,  the NBA has been branded with the homophobic label. But to call these two athletes homophobic would be like calling a “wi**er” who uses the N-word while listening to Hip-Hop racist.

Neither Kobe nor Joakim knew a single thing about the person they called a “fa**ot,” and their comments were meant as insults, not as a way to bash homosexuals.

On the basketball court, masculinity is valued. If you are tough, strong, and aggressive you are considered “the man.” If you play timid, passive and weak, you can be called everything in the book from a “b**ch” to a “fa**ot.”

For many around the world, being gay is the opposite of being masculine. So to call someone gay or a “fa**ot” is an insult to their masculinity. In hoops, trash talk and insults are common and come in all forms.

Let’s be real, if one were to put mics on everyone who played basketball from pee-wee to high school and pick up games to 40 and over, you would hear the word “fa**ot” as many times as you would hear it in an NBA game. The word is hurled between friends on football fields, playgrounds, classrooms and workplaces.

Kobe and Joakim are not guilty of the same homophobia as former NBA player Tim Hardaway who once said “I Hate Gays,” or preachers who say that homosexuality is evil. They are using a word as an insult that has been part of American culture since before they were born. A culture that derides anything gay as “soft” and determines that calling someone that will hurt them.

Maybe if more NBA players would come out of the closet, basketball players would not connect being gay with being soft or feminine. While using “fa**ot” is wrong, it seems like young Black NBA players are being scapegoated for an American problem.

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