For those of you who aren't big sports fans, here's a bit of backstory. Right now, the NFL is in a "lockout" thanks to a disagreement between team owners and the players' union over labor contracts. So rather than preparing for the usual late-July, early-August training camps, football players are having to find other things to do to pass the time. Philadelphia Eagles wideout DeSean Jackson recently went behind the mic to co-host a hip hop radio show on SiriusXM. As ESPN.com reports:
Jackson, appearing on a hip-hop radio show late last month, used a multiword gay slur in response to a berating caller. Jackson took calls on Sirius XM's "All Out Show with Rude Jude and Lord Sear" on June 30, replying in passing to a derogatory question about Jackson's toughness. Jackson responded, "What kind of question is that?" followed by the gay slurs.After some initial outcry, Jackson at first defended himself on Twitter, in tweets that have since been deleted, but Salon says contained the following:
WANNA BRING ME DOWN BUT IM OK!! THEY LOOKN 2 TAKE YA DOWN AT ALL TIMES NO MATTER HOW POSITIVE AND WHAT U DO!! ITS ALWAYS A WAY THEY TRY TO GET YA.... IM STANDIN TALL."Over the weekend however, the star receiver articulated a less defensive - and considerably less capitalized - view of the events. Now I know what you're thinking, and yes - I was thinking it too, especially since the apology doesn't read like anything else on Jackson's Twitter feed. But if you were to ask which one of these statements represents the "real" DeSean Jackson? The answer might not be so obvious. I think they both might. Because this is also the "real" DeSean Jackson - a guy who showed up on The View to encourage, support, and (literally) give the shirt off his back to a young fan of his who had been severely bullied. CYbY1gqAEx0 This was obviously long before he used any anti-gay epithets while co-hosting a hip-hop radio show. This was not DeSean Jackson trying to make amends for something he had done wrong; this was him just doing a good thing for a young bullying victim. That sounds like something the second DeSean Jackson would do. Once again, we see the disconnect that exists in our culture. Homophobic and transphobic slurs mean one thing to both the LGBT community and perpetrators of explicitly anti-LGBT violence and harassment. But to people who don't see themselves as anti-LGBT, these words (and in fact, simple identifiers like "gay") don't mean the same thing. To people who aren't used to their sexual orientation being used as a pejorative culturally, and who don't have a lot of interactions with people who do face this, it's not necessarily instinctive to back away from those words, and to take them out of one's vocabulary. Does that excuse it? Not even close. But does it explain it? Perhaps. Here's another important thing to consider. Remember that stuff I said at the beginning? About the NFL being in a lockout? That means that right now, DeSean Jackson is technically not employed by the National Football League, or the Philadelphia Eagles. That means no fines, no suspensions, and no discipline could have been levied upon him for this action. He didn't apologize because the league was going to punish him. He apologized because the world of sports is a very different, and far more inclusive place for LGBT people than it was even just a few years ago. Here's the takeaway from all this. As frustrating as it was to learn that an NFL star had used such vile anti-gay language on the radio, it was almost as encouraging to see his response, especially knowing his history around the issue of bullying, and knowing that he couldn't have been penalized for it - at least not until the league and the players resolve their labor dispute. Eventually I think we'll get to the point where professional athletes will realize that these hurtful phrases and slurs that have been thrown around on the ballfields and playgrounds all of their lives just aren't acceptable on the public stage. And as groups like Athlete Ally and Stand Up gain momentum, we'll see those slurs start to disappear from the locker rooms as well.