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.

Comments (37)

  1. I don’t think the analogy between Lebron saying something is retarded and Kobe saying what he said is very apt. The first casually refers to someone being stupid and “technically” refers to someone with limited mental capacity/disabilities. The second casually refers to someone being stupid and “technically” refers to someone who’s homosexual. My problem here is that there’s a divide between intention and meaning in the second that isn’t present in “retarded”. It’s easy to separate being gay from being stupid, but being technically retarded intrinsically means you have limited mental capabilities.

    As an example, growing up my school did not call anybody “retarded”. They were instead referred to as “special education”, the idea being that this would remove the stigma of “retarded”. Instead kids my age used “special ed” as the same pejorative “retarded” had been – the point being that, whatever terminology you use, however you refer to persons with mental disabilities, that terminology is intrinsically linked with limited mental capabilities. Not so with “that’s so gay”.

    I’m not altogether comfortable writing that, but it does seem to me to be an overlooked point in this analogy.

  2. LeBron didn’t say the reporter was retarded and Wade committed a dirty play but he did not mean to hurt Rondo.

  3. That bitch was retarded LULZ – Boston Fan

  4. I don’t understand how anybody can say that this is any different than Kobe. Maybe YOU don’t consider it as offensive, but I’m sure there are some people who consider it more offensive than what Kobe said. The point is, he said it, same as Kobe did, and know matter how you slice it that is offensive to some people. So the punishment should be the same.
    Most everybody says stuff like that from time to time, but you need to know when you shouldn’t use it. At a podium is one of those times.

  5. The question was retarded and so is this post. People need to stop getting so butt hurt over the minutiae of day to day language and its origins.

    On top of that the NBA’s obsessive fining of players’ and coaches’ speech is disgusting. If governments can let people speak freely why can’t David Stern? I think the league would be a lot more entertaining if players could express their real thoughts at the end of games instead of these neutered statements of “we executed really well tonight” or “we trusted each other and made the right switches on defense.” Take Kobe’s post-game at the end of game 4 for example – one word answers while biting his lip; fucking riveting to watch.

  6. Maybe he doesn’t know what retarded means, just like he didn’t understand what contraction meant.

    Maybe we can all do in together and get him a dictionary.

  7. Cynthia – “If governments can let people speak freely why can’t David Stern?” Well, having to make this distinction sort of makes any argument here pointless, but I’ll say it anyway, if an employer wants to tell an employee what kind of language he/she can/can’t use, they are allowed to do that. They are the employer.
    “the NBA’s obsessive fining of players’ and coaches’ speech is disgusting.” – really? You’re super concerned over Lebron James or Phil Jackson having to pay a $30k fine? They aren’t. You shouldn’t be. This is like a welfare recipient fighting for tax cuts for the wealthy, but even dumber, because it doesn’t affect you in the least.
    And finally, “People need to stop getting so butt hurt over the minutiae of day to day language and its origins.” – bet there’s a minute word i could use that would make you “butthurt”. But I wont. Anyway, see you next tuesday.

  8. This article wouldn’t have been written if the reporter asking Wade the question was a man.
    But who doesn’t like a little girl on girl action.

  9. I thought he said, “She retarded”

  10. this article is absurd. you said that lebron’s comment was insensitive as a response “toward a legitimate question asked by a credentialed reporter.” i beg to differ. that question is not legitimate and should be criticized. lebron’s comment may be immature and insensitive but you’re not addressing the

  11. this article is absurd. the question from the “credentialed reporter” is ridiculous and utterly offensive. that’s why lebron made that comment. it’s so blatantly obvious that lebron is not demeaning mentally challenged people. he’s criticizing the reporter for her inappropriate question. she basically asked dwayne wade if he intentionally committed a dirty foul with the intention of hurting his opponent. if you were in wade’s or lebron’s shoes and were not offended by that question then something would be wrong with you.

    you are a journalist. lets say you were vying for a promotion and your completion is other journalists within your office. lets say you accidentally spill coffee onto the server, or accidentally download a virus that damages your competitors work. then someone asks you if you intentionally did that so you can get the upper hand. ridiculous right? well that’s how lebron felt.

    i understand that its your job to write something interesting about the NBA, the playoffs, the players, etc. but please, try to be a little more creative when coming up with a story line. this is a non story and your critique is too self righteous.

  12. “it’s so blatantly obvious that lebron is not demeaning mentally challenged people.” – nope. obviously not.

    “he’s criticizing the reporter for her inappropriate question.” – ‘inappropriate question?’ She’s in the media! IT’S THEIR JOB. And what about the question was inappropriate exactly? And if it was (it wasn’t), what happened to ‘no comment’?

    “she basically asked dwayne wade if he intentionally committed a dirty foul with the intention of hurting his opponent.” – he did.

  13. oh, and LOL at your quotation marks on “credentialed reporter”. So…. she snuck in, then?

  14. I don’t see why retarded is a bad word.

  15. Are you guys serious? David Stern has every right to fine players for not behaving properly and using bad language. It’s his league, it’s his brand and the language Kobe and LeBron BOTH used should not be acceptable.

    I work with children with special needs, and believe me the word ‘retarded’ should never be used in the context LeBron used it. Many are sensitive to this word, and is EXACTLY comparable to the word ‘faggot’ and the gay community.

    LeBron’s comment was insensitive, deserves a fine and should not be accepted in the NBA. He’s smarter than that. Glad you wrote this Holly, I wouldn’t have heard about it otherwise.

  16. @adam

    i used quotation marks to quote the article, not to question her credentials.

    so lebron called the reporter or her question retarded because he wanted to make fun of people in special ed classes. right.

    its the media’s job to ask questions that are interesting. not accusatory.

    its clear that you’re a lebron/wade/heat hater. no matter what comments people make defending lebron/wade/heat you’re going to disagree with. i have no problem with that. i actually want boston to win too. but i’m not going to let that cloud my abilities to use logic and reason. apparently you have.

  17. I mean… what are you even talking about. This is a conversation about whether it’s ok to call things/people retarded. It’s not.

    Also, you did question the reporter’s credentials, you giving a logic lesson is comedy gold, and you most likely aren’t a real basketball fan, you are a nike/gatorade commercial fan.

    And as for my team, I hate Boston and Miami. But i’m impartial on this one. My team is already in the third round. (sorry everyone else, had to.)

  18. Great article Holly, thanks for bringing this issue to light. I absolutely agree with you. Stern set a precedent with the Kobe remark and that should be the baseline for all future insensitive slurs that players utter while “on the job”.

    The unfortunate part is, that sadly most of society doesn’t feel like that word Lebron uttered is offensive at all since its been around them since they were young and no one has ever expressed any anger over it. The truth is this word is every bit as harmful and insensitive as the word Kobe uttered, the only difference is that the homosexual community was able to stand up and say “we don’t like this word and don’t want to be associated with it”

    Sadly, most people with special needs do not have that same ability, so it is up to the rest of us to do it for them. I’ve had the honor of being around special needs kids all my life and I realize that is an experience most people don’t have and as a result they don’t see the harm in the word. But most of the time the word “retarded” is used with just as much hate, and disdain as any other derogatory word.

    Hopefully enough people make a fuss over this so that Stern can be consistent in his rules. Because sadly if no one makes a fuss, there will be no consequences for this.

  19. Well said. The thought that LeBron James may be unwittingly setting standards of social conduct for a generation is frightening and sad.

  20. the basketball jones and its existence remind me (a european) what’s great about north america (among others of course). discussions like this, however, remind me what sucks about you guys/your continent/ your media culture. oh i’m sorry – did i offend the female community by saying “guys”? or did i offend the vampire community by saying “sucks”? of course it’s wrong to say sth like fag or retard or whatnot but i mean COME ON! oh and what was that saying: may he who is without sin make the first tweet? come to think of it: why do you even HAVE press conferences?! what interesting thing that really meant anything for anyone has ever been said on a postgame press conference? it’s just more bored-people-stuff to write or read about. get a life, everyone (oh and grab one for me too btw. thx)

  21. @adam – you’re retarded

  22. ps i hate lebron and what he said was wrong and so was what kobe said, but there’s no need to write more than one sentence about that but I CAN TOTALLY UNDERSTAND HIS REACTION! this is probably the most stupid (can i say that without offending stupid people?) question in the history of stupid questions. geez.

  23. @adam

    Yes an employer is “allowed” (from a legal perspective) to set rules like these for their organization, but the question is: should they set these rules? If we are a society that values the freedom of individuals we should condemn organizations, whether they be employers or governments, that limit an individual’s basic rights. Because LeBron James chose to play basketball for a living he has to sacrifice his right to speak freely? Because he makes millions of dollars it’s acceptable to stifle his basic rights as a human being? Whether a person is being paid beneath a living wage or is making lebron-james-money is irrelevant to the more important issue, which is that nobody should have the power to strip an individual of his or her god-given rights.

  24. erm… @ cynthia hate to brake it to you but no rights are god-given because rights are socially constructed and therefore depend on the society and time you happen to live in.
    that being said, well, yeah, you’re right it is pretty weird that an organization can limit your freedom of speech, but it’s kind of in his contract that in exchange for a gazillion dollars he’s the nba’s bitch for the next 15 years. which is why it shouldn’t be ok but it kind of is because that “Whether a person is being paid beneath a living wage or is making lebron-james-money is irrelevant to the more important issue” is just not true. the fact that there even is such a thing as a “living wage” makes it clear that it IS relevant how much you earn. people aren’t equal. it makes a difference how much money someone gets. and freedom of speech doens’t mean you get to insult people fyi

  25. It really doesn’t even matter what the person gets paid. I make in a year what LBJ makes in a day. But if I stand up in my cubicle right now and let off a string of slurs, epithets, and curses, my employer shouldn’t fire me? Really? Not sure what you think freedom of speech means, but it ain’t that.

  26. Telecustom: The issue is not really that he said the word. The issue is that Kobe was fined $100k less than a month ago for saying a word that people shouldn’t say. Now Lebron just did it so shouldn’t he be fined as well?

    If Stern is going to try and regulate what players say he has to be consistent.

    And you can’t say that f*ggot and r*tard are not the same because they are. They are both hurtful to the groups that they refer to.

  27. @ tom i know but that’s not really where this whole debate comes from.

  28. I almost always love Holly’s articles but this is stupid.

  29. @adam

    did you go to college? because you make no sense. you’re just an agitator. please stay out of this dialogue because you are clearly racist. i dont appreciate your hatred for these players

  30. holly this article is terrible. this holier than thou self righteous PC bullshit is poisoning any real thought or emotions. the NBA is trying to neuter the players through censorship, dress codes, technical fouls for “demonstrative” behvior, etc. let people be who/what they are. i’m not saying they should let them get away with crazy behavior like bynum’s foul the other night, but when you try to control the content of what people say you get a bunch of players/coaches repeating the same old cliches and bullshit after each game. then when something that deviates from the insipid norm, writers like holly latch onto it for dear life so they can have something to write about. like lost duck said, please try to be a little more creative and write about something with substance. stop slandering these players with this bullshit.

  31. Boy, that escalated quickly. Brick killed a guy!

  32. i don’t understand why some people so stubbornly defend the use of expression like ” that’s retarded”.

    recognizing that certain expressions are offensive doesn’t make you “PC” – it just means you are not an asshole.

  33. Problem is, retardation is different from race/sexuality/gender because it isn’t just a difference, in the eyes of almost everyone it is a defect.

    What would people think of a parent who hoped for their child to be retarded?

    Comparing this and what Kobe said requires either that you think homosexuality is a defect, or that you think retardation is not a bad thing, just a ‘difference’. Which is insane.

  34. This article and subsequent discussion is retarded.

    Just because it is really clear that there is not a clear understanding the actual definition for “retarded,’ I’ll hook you all up with a link: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/retarded

    Now we can argue with a degree of intelligence. LeBron happened to use a word that has origins that doesn’t implicate a certain group of people, and still has legitimate reference to someone being stupid, but not necessarily mentally handicapped.

    Still, LeBron is getting some flack from journalists. Sad, as journalists should be less retarded about the language they use.

  35. Wade should’ve answered “Rondo had his forearm in the back of my head and is pretty much responsible for the injury he took. Your question is dumb.”

  36. The article isn’t saying LeBron should be fined. It’s saying based on the precedent set by Stern by fining Kobe, LeBron should also be fined. I know LeBron was trying to offend anyone, but it’s not like Kobe intended to offend the gay community anyway. It’s the exact same case with a different group. So based on Stern’s past action, LeBron should be fined. I’m not going into the social argument.

  37. Why is everyone making such a big deal out of it? The woman asking the question probably was retarded.

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