Another day another slur in the NBA. Yuck. I hate that I’ve got to be writing about this right now, with so many great things going on in the playoffs, but after writing my displeasure with LeBron James for using the word “retarded” in a press conference a few weeks ago, it wouldn’t be right if I ignored what Joakim Noah said last night as he was sitting on the bench. After picking up his second foul with more than six minutes remaining in the first quarter he came to the bench and sat down. With the TNT cameras still focused on him, Noah responded to a fan that was heckling him by saying, “F–k you, F—-t.”

Just lovely. It’s also essentially the same thing that Kobe Bryant directed at an official as the regular season was winding down. That outburst, also caught on camera, cost Bryant $100,000 as the NBA took a stance against discriminatory language. I have no problem with that fine, as long as the league intends to be consistent with these situations. This is where things get tricky.

When James said “retarded’ in a press conference with all eyes, recorders and cameras on him, not only did the NBA not fine him, they didn’t mention it. James apologized for offending people at a morning shootaround after receiving criticism for his words and we were on our merry way. One day after Noah’s poor word choice, Noah’s teammates spoke about the drunk fan who was serving up a steady stream of vulgar insults towards Noah, baiting him into the ugly exchange that was caught on camera.

Bulls beat writer K.C. Johnson tweeted that several Bulls players said the fan made a slur about Noah’s mother. Here’s what Luol Deng told Johnson:

“What Jo said is something out of frustration — he has to do a better job of controlling his emotion…At the same time, there are times when a fan like that — honestly, I feel like jumping in the crowd and hitting him. We’re humans. And the camera is not on that fan at all. I know Jo apologized and everything, but people have to see it the other way, too. Everyone says things they don’t mean. He let the emotion get the better of him. But honestly, with a game like that, hearing that fan — I wanted to do something about it, too. Unfortunately for Jo, he has to pay the price.”

“I felt like jumping into the crowd and hitting him.” Can you blame him? It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been playing basketball or how many times you’ve seen/heard/experienced people saying those things about your family, it doesn’t make it OK. You shouldn’t have to take that verbal abuse while you’re on the clock, doing your job.

We all know that athletes get paid millions of dollars to play a game and as a result they have to take fans heckling and teasing and taunting them. But it doesn’t matter how much money someone is getting paid — having people say disgusting, ignorant and vile things about their family while sitting only inches away from them isn’t a part of the deal.

Nor should it be, regardless of the cost of tickets or the amount of zeros on the checks being cashed by these players. I wish fans could realize they are paying money to watch a sport, not to speak to athletes in a way they couldn’t — and wouldn’t — dare to outside of the arena. It’s not OK and it frustrates me that there isn’t something that can be done to eliminate this.

While I say this, I am in no way excusing what Noah said because it frustrates me that Noah used the f-word. I’ve written at length about my thoughts with respect to the use of words like these and don’t want to repeat myself here, but will say Noah was absolutely wrong in using that slur to fire back at the fan, regardless of what was said. While I understand being enraged and I sympathize with him having to deal with an ignorant fan that likely should have been thrown out of the game (and maybe that’s the solution, removing fans who can’t understand basic rules of decorum and human decency), whether or not Noah meant to offend anyone, he did so when he used that word. It’s a part of his vocabulary, just like it is a part of Bryant’s vocabulary, just like the r-word is a part of James’.

I don’t doubt that Noah feels badly for causing pain to some and for using the word at all. Maybe this will be the start of him replacing that word with so many others that would fit the bill. It’ll be interesting to see how the NBA decides to deal with this. After making a stance with Bryant, will they look at this differently because the exchange was toward a fan who was trying to incite Noah?

There are a lot of variables in this situation and there will continue to be those x-factors that pop up as the league tries to uphold the statement they made with Bryant’s fine. While Noah deserves to be fined, that fan who said those things to him about his family? He deserves punishment, too. I don’t care if he’s paying lots of money for those tickets beside the bench, I’d ban his ass from the arena for the rest of this series.

The bottom line here goes back to what I said after James used the r-word: Let’s stop being jerks. Aim to stop using words that hurt people outside of the one they’re being directed toward. There are plenty of four-letter words we can use instead. If you’re a fan sitting in a cushy seat you just shelled out a lot of money for, enjoy it. Enjoy the game and enjoy the energy and enjoy heckling a player, but recognize that when he steps off of the basketball court, that player is a person with a family he loves and will protect at all costs, just like you will with yours. Leave his family out of it. If you can’t do that, I feel sorry for you and I’d much prefer you watch from home where your ignorance can remain contained within those four walls so the rest of us don’t have to hear it.

Comments (31)

  1. Love this piece. Really feel like these ugly incidents are paving the way towards more awareness of something that’s been going on in the league for a while. The fan should’ve been kicked out of the game, and this is coming from a Miami fan.

    That being said, Noah HAS to handle this better.. What would Joakim do had he been in LeBron’s position in that game in Cleveland? If Lebron had responded to a fan talking about Delonte and Gloriad in a rude manner in that game. National media wouldn’t feel any sympathy for the guy… All because of a stupid one hour espn show?

  2. Noah was in the wrong. The fan was drunk that should be a good enough excuse for Noah to ignore him. You can’t control what others do, but you sure can control what you do. People are always going to be idiots, change yourself.

  3. If Noah were white, and the epithet he used was the n-word, would you be making apologies for his behavior then?

  4. Good piece, but IMO it’s dripping with too many excuses. Yes, we’ve got to kill a lot of this nastiness from the game. But it really doesn’t matter what the fan said. Doesn’t matter whether the fan was drunk or not.

    It’s totally irrelevant what he heard.

    And bringing Lebron into this argument…. the two situations are quite a few degrees apart. Not a good comparison IMO. “That’s retarded” is a whole lot different than “F*** You, you Fa***t!”. The first being a lack of public etiquette, the second a lack of decency and composure. Kobe’s outburst is a much better example, and why I expect no less than a 100k fine.

    Want to use Lebron as an example? How about that game earlier this season (Detroit?) where a fan heckled Lebron about his mom, while his kids were right there. And nothing will touch what happened at that first game in Cleveland.

  5. I agree with MG. LeBron managed to handle both that situation in Detroit exactly the way it should have been handled, by calmly and politely asking the guy to be respectful in front of his family.

    Honestly, in this case I personally hope the NBA fines Noah more than they fined Kobe. That fine on Kobe should have sent a message to everyone else in the league that they weren’t going to play around with this kind of language. The fact that it happened again so soon after the first fine and was this time directed at a fan and yelled out into the stands should factor in. Whereas what Kobe said was yelled onto the court and at an official, Noah yelled into the stands, possibly around familes and children, which should absolutely never be tolerated.

    I also really wish players would stop with the “heat of the moment” and the “pressure of the stage” excuse. Racism and prejudice often surface in times of economic downtown or societal upheaval, so that line of logic/arguement could very easily be used to excuse most of the horrible prejudice we’ve seen throughout history. it’s a lame cop-out, for once I’d like to see someone just flat out say they were wrong and not try to justify their behavior and take the cowardly way out of the situation by blaming it on the pressure of the stage.

  6. Well, he was fined **ONLY** 50k. Probably because it was a fan and not an official.

  7. Absolutely… That’ll totally hurt his wallet and set an example. Great job NBA. Fan is worth half of an nba ref. :/

  8. So it was $50K for the slur and $50K for not “respecting the game” in Kobe’s situation. Bad move NBA.

  9. 50k is an appropriate fine. The reason Kobe got 100k was because of his star status and the fact that he is making 24 million a year, 7 times more what Noah is currently making. Has nothing to do with fan/official.

  10. MG/Angelo: I actually tweeted about the incident with LeBron in Detroit. This whole thing made me think of how well he handled that. He got his point across and let it be known that he wasn’t happy with the guy saying things about his family. Too bad Noah couldn’t have kept his head and done the same. Also too bad words like “faggot” and “retarded” are still in our vocabularies.

  11. I’m a Miami Heat fan and a season ticket holder, but I’m all for fans getting fined and even banned for crossing the line with what they say to the opposing team. I have no idea what the fan said, but he clearly said something that incensed Noah. Noah handled it poorly, unlike LeBron, who has probably heard far worse over the last eight months Still, I tend to side with the players in these situations, because I’ve heard fans say some really vile things.

  12. The economist in me wants to buy that Noah’s fine was pro-rated to account for the massive difference between Kobe and Noah’s contract but we’re still talking about less than half a percent of Noah’s contract. To convert that into US household income (sorry, I don’t know Canadian figures), we’re talking around a $200 fine. That’s my grocery bill for the month.

    I was also under the impression that the league was all about consistency in this kind of situation. I can’t remember them ever pro-rating fines in the past based off of contract amounts. Why start now with something like this?

    If the league really wanted to show that they were serious about this, they really missed the opportunity here. Take what they fined Kobe and increase it to account for the fact it was at a fan and yelled into the stands.

    Or maybe they accounted for the fact that the game was in Miami and the crowd hadn’t yet arrived. A-yo!

  13. Oh, and for the whole “the fan had it coming for what he said” argument, if Noah would have called him an asshole, we wouldn’t be talking about this right now. Acting like that gives Noah the right to say something to him, but not to use that word. The issue is his use of a slur, not him yelling at the fan.

  14. Haha angelo we were actually there on time for once!

  15. I’m here to stand up for the derogatory use of retarded. The problem with using homosexuality as an insult is the fact that gay people (like black people, or gingers, or the dutch, whores, or bastards) aren’t any worse than the rest of us. I wouldn’t mind if my lawyer, cashier, bartender, etc. was any of those things, but you know what, I’m pretty sure most people would be uneasy with a retarded waiter/taxi driver/contractor. And more than that, I bet 99.99999% of people would say that they would prefer that their child not be retarded.

    If that doesn’t do it, how about this:

    1. Dumb appears to be a perfectly acceptable insult. I can say, “that was a dumb play by Monta Ellis,” and nobody is going to jump on me for using ‘dumb’ as an insult.

    2. Retarded people are dumber than people who are not retarded.

    3a. It’s either okay to use ‘retarded’ as an insult, or it isn’t okay to use ‘dumb’.

    3b. Dumb people (and there are people who are aware they’re not as smart as most of their classmates/friends/family) have feelings, just as much as retarded people do, so don’t try to weasel out of it by saying, “Well, I might agree that retardation is a deficit, but retarded people are people too and it isn’t nice to point out that they have a disability.” More than that, retardation and regular old dumb are basically perfect substitutes, except that retardation has more specific genetic/chemical causes, while the causes of ‘dumb’ are a little harder to pinpoint. In both cases, the dumb or retarded person isn’t at all responsible for their disability and both a dumb person and a retarded person could be aware of and possibly hurt by the use of their disability as an insult. But retarded people garner a whole shit-ton more sympathy than the ‘merely’ stupid.

  16. There is an easy way to get rid of that behavior from fans. Just post obvious signs at the front entrance and throughout the arena that clearly express acceptable viewer etiquette and that the organization reserves the right to remove viewers who are not adhering to the posted guidelines. Then you can just allow security guards and other trained to staff to enforce those guidelines. Problem solved!

  17. Maybe he should have just put it in quotes like Holly did.

    because if you put it in quotes it’s not offensive anymore, RIGHT GUYS?

    Typical case of much ado about nothing.

  18. The reason Noah only got fined 50 000 is probably because of the rules outlined in this Slate article:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2291244/

    As for the “F-word” I thought South Park cleared all of that up.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_F_Word_(South_Park)

    Hell, from what I have heard about Noah he might very well have seen that episode. Does anyone know if the heckler was wearing any Harley gear?

  19. For those being hard on Holly, you are likely hypocrites. We have all stubbed our toe, been cut of in traffic, been in hostile situations where things are said that we don’t mean. And if you say “No”, you are either lying or use those words only when around close friends.

    I am by no means racist or prejudice, but if someone insults me with the intention to do emotional harm, I will return the favor.

    Noah, Kobe and Lebron all should have been fined.
    But fans need to stop getting a free pass!
    Your ticket stub is not a “diplomatic immunity” card.

    I’d like the league to show the fans, make known what they said, release their names to the public and kick them out of the arena.

    Until then, the NBA is sending a message that NBA players should shut up and take it, which is not fair.

    Remember Ron Artest freaked out only after a fan shot a glass of beer on his FACE.
    Most Saturday nights downtown people start fights for much less.

  20. Manu Ginobili, i enjoyed your comment. just so you know.
    in general: i hate these articles and discussions. it’s obviously wrong to say anything to anyone, like ever. i would have said “unless it’s something positive”, but where there’s postive there must also be negative, and that could insult someone or something that’s not so positive and make it/him/her/them feel bad. so we should all shut up and not talk about anything anymore. i can live with that.

  21. Holly, Your post shows exactly where the problem lies. People are too self-centered, taking offence in every little thing not directed at them. This “decency” crusade got out of hand long time ago, and frankly at times it looks more like monty python than real life.
    It would be different situation if LBJ or Noah said something like “we should hang all those damn …. “, but that was not the case. So maybe we should spend our time less on looking for some imaginary slights and more on building rational level of communication.

  22. why is “frickyou f@ggot” more offensive/bad/whatever than @sshole, s.o.b., muthafucka, etc?

  23. “fag” isn’t even a gay slur anymore…
    maybe he was calling the fan an annoyingly loud and obnoxious Harley driver.
    (see urbandictionnary.com or the south park episode called “the F-word”

    More to the point, when I insult someone, I usually don’t mean what I’m saying and just need to insult a guy… If I call someone a “son of a whore”, I don’t mean his mama is selling herself on the street, I mean “you annoy me and get lost”.

    Giving insults too much meaning there folks.
    I know when I’m pissed off, I don’t take the time to wonder “is this guy gay?”, or “is this guy’s mom a whore”, or “is he, technically, a mother-fucker?” I just burst out any insult that comes to mind without analyzing it… and so do you.

  24. @Breyzh the difference is b/c the specific meaning of the word “faggot” actually refers to a maligned group of people that have suffered significant violence and bigotry historically, and to some extent continue to. That is why “retarded” is considered offensive as well, because people that are as Manu might say dumb enough to be classified as mentally ill are not just a degree dumber. Society has specifically drawn lines, where these people may be held against their will (of course sometimes it’s necessary) and suffer through serious institutional injustices, such as physical abuse and experimentation. This is currently less of an issue and hot-button issue than homophobia, which may be why it’s use is more accepted than “faggot”. As far as I know, Nazis didn’t round up assholes and motherfuckers. They did kill homosexuals and mentally handicapped people. If an insult is tied to a real thing OF COURSE it is going to carry more weight.

  25. I think you should know how bizarre all that circus is from an international reader perspective. This does not make any sense at all to me. Words are just wind. They only carry as much power as people give to them. What if somebody took insult to someone calling him black or white or yellow? Should we stop using the words at all? “What color is your pencil, little lady? – I cannot say it to you mister, it is a bad word”. This is all very stupid (from my point of view, obviously) and people should grow a thicker skin. The PC mafia should leave the world (specially north america) alone.

  26. Udonis Haslem, on the Joakim Noah slur/fine situation. “Can you imagine what LeBron heard back in Cleveland? He didn’t respond that way. Joakim’s a good guy, but he made a mistake.”

  27. I’m curious as to where you are from, international reader. The US was late to ending slavery, and may be a little too PC on some things, but we don’t have the racist chants that soccer stadiums in parts of Europe have experienced. Antisemitism is a lot less prevalent as well. Your example is taking it to the extreme, obviously for comedy, but it has no relevance. I do not think the WORD itself is offensive, it’s directing it as an insult when it comes with a reminder of serious injustice, it’s about context. I can say the word “faggot” to discuss it, but I wouldn’t direct it at someone. I’ll say the pencil is yellow, but I won’t tell an Asian person “get your yellow ass out of here” if they foul me hard or piss me off on the court.

  28. Hi, luis

    I am from Lithuania. About the chants and antisemitism (or any form of segregation), I think there is a clear line between words and action. There were jerks, there are jerk, there will be jerks. There is no way around it. I do not think being PC is the way to combat that. I think people have the right to say whatever they want. People do not have the right to discriminate, though. Words are just wind. People get insulted because nobody likes being disliked, but I do not think either the fan or Noah mean that the other person was a homosexual or an obnoxious harley enthusiast (maybe that fits for phil jackson, though). My point is: people have to stop being oversensitive and have clear on their heads that words have no real consequences (unless they are saying something like: kill all HD enthusiasts, but most countries already have legislation that punishes hate incitement). In my opinion, the rest is just venting.

  29. @ Zimmerman
    cool to see someone eslse right-minded here….

    Of course those words are offensive, but the ones who give them power are the ones who get offended…

  30. I mean: when Skeets say “fuck!” do you imagine someone fucking or is that just a word?

    You learn slurs before you know what they mean. You cant un-learn them.

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