Should the NBA slam use of the n-word?

OPINION - If someone is caught on national TV using the n-word against an official or another player, will the NBA be expecting a check from that individual, too?...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

As good as the NBA playoffs have been this year in terms of the furious action on the court, what players say to each other in the heat of the battle is not something you want your kids to hear by any stretch of the imagination.

Perhaps the most glaring example of this was the fines that were handed out to Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah and Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. Both players used terms that were offensive to gay people. Noah was fined $50,000 for saying it to a fan and Bryant had to shell out $100,000 for using anti-gay slur against an NBA official.

On one hand, I am a firm believer in freedom of speech. At the same time, however, I just believe that any form of speech or language that is deemed offensive based on race, religion, gender, physical condition (wheel chair users, etc) or sexual orientation has no place in the sports arena or any other workplace. Having worked as a sports editor of a newspaper, it was something I often made clear to those I supervised.

But there’s another offensive word that players use against each other on the court and that’s the n-word. From what I understand that’s a word that black players use against each other and sometimes against players who are not African-American. If someone is caught on national TV using the n-word against an official or another player, will the NBA be expecting a check from that individual, too? There are some who say that the NBA is not going to get bent out of shape or fine anyone for that matter when black guys refer to each other as the n-word.

“Player saying that to a referee or a player saying that to a fan, I would be surprised if the league wasn’t as responsive as they were with Kobe and with Joakim,” said TNT sideline reporter David Aldridge, who has covered the NBA for over 20 years. “I think you have to limit it to the circumstances. If it’s two guys down low banging against each other and they’re doing a little woofing, I don’t that anybody would suggest that they would start fining people. You wish they wouldn’t use that word.

“If you’re talking about similar circumstances where there ’s a camera on the guy, it’s clear what they’re saying and they’re directing it to a specific person, I think the league would react the same way (as Bryant and Noah).”

Mark Broussard, the NBA’s senior director of the communications, said the league in the past has investigated and fined players over the years for a variety of obscene gestures and inappropriate statements that the league looks at things on a case-by-case basis. The decision to punish a player or a coach comes before the next game. For the younger generation (especially those born after 1980) of African-Americans, the n-word is used a part of their everyday language as a term of endearment, especially among hip-hop artists and their fans — many of whom play in the NBA. Ron Glover, editor of the website The Starting Five believes that the NBA should fine players equally as for using the n-word, but the problem is that the word is too prevalent in black pop culture.

“I think the n-word won’t be addressed because as long as it’s in our music as long as black director and continue to write in their movie scripts, no one’s going to take you seriously,” Glover said. We don’t want the word to be used, but every time I turn around when there’s a new black movie out, it’s written in the script. It’s constantly being written in black music. Until those things are addressed, then we can go to the NBA and say we need something done about this.”

Glover said he hopes that NBA Commissioner David Stern would make it clear that any type of offensive slurs based on someone’s race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation would not be tolerated among any of its players, coaches, staff and executives.

From watching programs on networks like BET and TV-One, I have noticed that the n-word is often bleeped out in the way that you bleep those seven curse words that are forbidden by the FCC.

No matter what context the n-word is used is something that is still offensive to many African-Americans because how the word was used historically and even in contemporary times to demean black people. Again, offensive words of any type should not be permitted in the workplace even if it is an arena full of screaming fans.

AOL Fanhouse NBA writer David Steele said those who claimed that Bryant used the gay slur in a different context were wrong and off base.

“It doesn’t matter what you think it means or what you meant by it,” Steele said. “You know good and well how it’s taken by the members of that group. You can’t dodge responsibility for what you said by saying you don’t understand how I meant it. Your job is to not be offensive to them. I’m not sure if anybody has learned that.”

I applaud Stern and the NBA for the stiff fines administered to both Bryant and Noah for their transgressions because those things should never be tolerated in a workplace. I’d like to think that the commissioner would recognized this and would come down just as hard on anyone, regardless of race, who would use the n-word as well.