I grew up watching Michael Jordan doing, quite simply, the most amazing things I’ve ever seen a human being do on a basketball court. I would sit and watch in disbelief, convinced that he was defying all laws of nature and actually flying toward the basket, dismantling defenses and turning coaches and opposing players into fans as all they could do was watch him work. A great deal of my fondest childhood memories include me sitting in front of a television set and cheering on my favorite basketball player.

I also grew up watching Michael Jordan pat his teammates on the butt after a nice play.

It was standard procedure: after an amazing play on either end of the court, a teammate would offer up a congratulatory butt slap to let the other guy know “hey, good job.” It’s a practice found throughout the sports world and is as much a part of the game as Gatorade and Spike Lee. The butt slaps are frequent, and never has anyone questioned a player’s sexuality because of one.

Which is why it’s so confusing that New Orleans Hornets star Chris Paul, during a post-game interview after the Hornets victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, felt it necessary to “pause” his teammate Trevor Ariza, after Ariza ran behind Paul and picked him up off the ground in an excited, celebratory embrace.

WATCH CHRIS PAUL DROP A ‘PAUSE’ IN A POST-GAME INTERVIEW:

“Pause” is a phrase used, much like “no homo”, to recognize that a comment or action that could be read as sexual was not intended as such, particularly when the behavior, in the mind of the speaker, could be misconstrued as reflecting some latent homosexual desire.

Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic also used “pause” in a post-game interview while describing his match-ups with opposing center Andrew Bynum, noting that Bynum is “long” (where he means the length of his body, one could mistake it for meaning the length of his member…get it?). But in a sport where men are literally touching, grabbing, bumping, and rubbing up against one another over the course of two hours, it’s difficult to discern where and why these men draw the line and feel the need to offer a “pause” to protect the notion of their heterosexuality.

It’s not as obviously homophobic as Kobe Bryant’s f-word insult that was hurled at a referee, and it generally invokes laughter rather than scorn, but “pause” is no less indicative of a troubling homophobic mindset, particularly among young black men. The underlying fear is that others will perceive them as gay, and therefore less of a man and unworthy of respect. As such, “pause” and “no homo” are used to distance one’s self from all things homosexual, real or perceived.
“Pause” and “no homo” gained their popularity when Harlem-based rap crew Dipset (notable members include Cam’Ron, Jim Jones, and Juelz Santana) started using the phrases in their music and interviews, around 2002/3. From there, the entire hip-hop community embraced this pledge of heterosexual allegiance, reinforcing the homophobia often found in the music. At one point, it seemed as if there wasn’t a comment that could be made without someone making point to add “no homo” afterward, no matter how benign. “No homo” became a piece of punctuation, used just as often as a comma or period.

In turn, those who found the practice of “no homo” and “pause” to be childish, offensive, and unnecessary began using the phrases satirically, in an attempt to highlight just how stupid the whole thing had become. However, as radio host and video blogger Jay Smooth pointed out in his YouTube hit “An Old Person’s Guide to ‘No Homo’”, even when the intentions are supposedly comedic and aren’t to reflect homophobia, it’s difficult to discern when and where it’s being used for its original purposes and when it’s just a silly game.

‘THE BOONDOCKS’ BREAKS DOWN ‘NO HOMO’ AND ‘PAUSE’:

The best thing would be for us all to address the issue of homophobia so no one anywhere would feel these terms to be necessary, and thereby not necessary to satirize. When we can finally divorce the idea of one’s sexuality determining their idea of manhood and accept that homosexuality is a legitimate expression of masculinity, it may be possible to start having a real conversation about homophobia and finally putting an end to the rampant fear altogether.

Until then, I suppose Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, men who participate in an activity on a daily basis that requires them to come in direct physical contact with other men, often rubbing their genitalia on one another in the name of defense, will be afraid of someone thinking that they’re gay if they say the wrong thing. Honestly, that’s really hard to swallow.

I dare you to say “pause.”