On Saturday night, my Twitter timeline went a little crazy after the Celtics/Heat game. No, not about the superman performance Rajon Rondo put on, but about the press conference Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were having. As per usual, Wade and James did their postgame media availability together and when a reporter asked Wade about the play with Rondo where the two were tangled, she asked him about the potential assumption that the play was a dirty one. As the question was being asked LeBron, annoyed with the question, mumbled into his microphone, “That’s retarded.”
I wasn’t able to hear him clearly the first time, but after the Tweetdeck updates came in fast and furiously and the YouTube clip was uploaded, it was confirmed: LeBron said retarded in a press conference, sitting in front of a microphone and lots of recorders and cameras. He said it and there doesn’t appear to be any real backlash. I can’t lie, I’m pretty surprised.
I get it. People use the term all of the time. He didn’t mean it like that. He was just expressing displeasure with the question that was asked to his teammate. Yadda. Yadda. Yadda. Blah. Blah. Blah. Excuse. Excuse. Excuse.
If something wasn’t wrong, excuses wouldn’t have to be made.
I’m not here to call LeBron a jerk and make him out to be a monster. I know that people do say it. I know he wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. Those are not good enough reasons and I don’t want to hear excuses.
Where I stand, if less than a month ago the league made an example out of Kobe Bryant, fining him $100,000 for uttering a gay slur during a basketball game, don’t they have some sort of duty to uphold the bar they so recently set for insensitive comments?
What Bryant said was wrong, there’s no debating that. What does come to mind, though, is that despite being wrong, Bryant said this during a basketball game where — unfortunately — disgusting things are said often and where he wasn’t entirely aware that people could hear. Of course, he has to be aware as a professional athlete with cameras on him, anything he says can be on display, but he was on the sideline and probably didn’t think about having his words picked up by everyone watching at home.
In comparison, LeBron was sitting at a podium for availability with the media where he knew everything he said would be picked up and given to everyone watching on live streams or the television. I guess LeBron saying that word while being mic’d up shows that this is a word he uses without consequence. If we’re going to fine Kobe for what he said, how can we allow LeBron’s comments to fall by the wayside?
Both comments hurt. Both are insensitive. Both were used with disdain, Kobe’s toward an official, LeBron’s toward a legitimate question asked by a credentialed reporter. Neither clip will be making the league’s NBA Cares commercials anytime soon.
Don’t tell me LeBron is young. Being young isn’t good enough here. He is 26 years old. He’s a father of two. He’s been in the league for eight seasons and he’s a two-time MVP of the league. He knows that what he says matters. He knows that he’s one of the faces of this league. Sure, he is young in years, but he’s also a veteran, both to the game on the court and the business to being a professional athlete off of it.
While I’m not one for stifling athletes or anyone else, I am one for figuring out what guidelines are and for enforcing them when they’ve been decided upon. A part of David Stern’s statement in the aftermath of Kobe’s fine:
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.
I’d say that whether or not people use the word LeBron used, they know that it’s insensitive. I’ve gotten a lot of responses from people saying, “Everybody says it.” First of all, no, everyone does not say it. Second, lots of people do bad things. It doesn’t make them right.
While LeBron James has the freedom to say whatever he wants to say, I guess I’d like to believe he’d be more sensitive to those fans who are paying money to watch him play basketball — the money that pays his salary — who could be hurt by those comments. Unfortunately, when given the opportunity by media to speak on his word choice today, LeBron declined.
As far as the league is concerned: Figure out what you consider to be insensitive and unacceptable and lay down the rules. Don’t pick and chose when to make a stand or who to make an example of. I would never guess that in 2011, a two-time MVP and current face of the league would say “retarded” toward a reporter’s question in a scrum without people raising eyebrows.
I don’t think LeBron’s a bad person who wants to hurt people. I do think, though, that we — as a collective, not as athletes or celebrities or media members — should try to eliminate something that causes unnecessary pain or strife. Life is filled with enough challenges, obstacles and heartaches. No need to be ignorant to those that we can easily prevent.
We’re better than this. Let’s be better. LeBron and Kobe, you and me.