Yesterday, ESPN.com writer Kevin Arnovitz interviewed NBA star Kenneth Faried on the prospect of an openly gay player in the NBA. Arnovitz states that Faried, who is a starter for the Denver Nuggets, was a natural choice for the interview as someone who grew up with two gay moms. He has also made headlines recently for releasing a video with his moms supporting the passage of a civil union bill in Colorado and as the first NBA player to join Athlete Ally.
For Faried, LGBT equality and inclusion is simple reality, a normative existence that shouldn't be viewed as radical to talk about. In the interview he discusses the extent of homophobia in the NBA. Arnovitz asks Faried whether or not he thinks his status as an ally deters people from throwing around homophobic slurs. At this point Faried unintentionally delves into one of the less publicized aspects of homophobia in sports. He responds by explaining how athletes are not any less likely to throw around homophobic slurs because athletes don't mean the slurs to be disrespectful to the gay community. It's just guys joking around in the locker room.
Kenneth Faried is a fantastic ally and an advocate unafraid to use his status as a professional athlete to advance LGBT rights. He means what he says about the use of homophobic slurs in the NBA. But that's the difference, he means what he says. Many NBA players, and athletes in general, do not infuse their homophobic joking with pre-meditated anti-gay sentiment. Athletes generally do not have a specific aspect of the LGBT movement that they are thinking about with mustered hatred when throwing out these slurs. No, instead they are just tossing them out, and that actually makes it a more challenging problem to solve.
It is the culture of casual homophobic rhetoric that needs to be changed. Athletes might not have specific anti-gay malice in their minds when they throw out these slurs, but they might not have (or know they have) LGBT people in their lives that their words would hurt. Because these words do make a difference. Something that is "just a joke" to one person can give another the impression that sports are not a safe place for them.
Even if a player does not personally know someone identifying as LGBT, they do know a gay player. It's been said many times that statistically speaking, there has to be a gay player in the NBA, even if their teammates don't know it yet. The fact that players are throwing around these slurs, even if they are not intentionally derogatory, probably influences Faried's statement later in the interview that he feels the NBA is a long way away from having a player come out. Casual homophobia leads to an environment of accepted homophobia. This dissuades LGBT athletes from being open or feeling included. It justifies the world of athletics in the minds of many as one of the few aspects of our society unable to come to terms with LGBT people as players, as participants, or even as fans.