Joakim Noah Has A Lesson To Teach, But Will People Learn?

Apparently Chicago Power Forward/Center Joakim Noah learned a hell of a lot from Kobe Bryant’s anti-gay outburst last month. Will anyone else?

On Sunday, just a few weeks after Kobe Bryant was fined for using the word “faggot” during an NBA game, Noah was caught on camera using the same word. Some of us, myself included, were ready for a similar repeat of Bryant’s defiant attitude when he was disciplined.

Speaking only for myself, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Noah’s reaction couldn’t have been more different than Bryant’s. Here he is after Sunday’s game when reporters told him about the video that was already online.

Noah continued:

“The fan said something that was disrespectful towards me and I went back at him,” Noah said.

“I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. Anybody who knows me knows that I’m not like that. I’m an open-minded guy. I said the wrong thing and I’m going to pay the consequences – deal with the consequences – like a man.”

On Monday, Noah spoke about the incident as word of his $50,000 fine came down from the NBA front office.

Probably his most important and insightful comments come from his interview with out gay sportswriter Kevin Arnovitz for ESPN:

Noah: You know, all my best friends live downtown in New York City. I was made in Soho. Sometimes, when you’re at this level you don’t realize the consequences or how much a word can bother people. My mom’s best friend was gay. We used to call him “Mom.” So I’m disappointed because that’s not me. I didn’t mean any harm to anybody. I don’t want anyone to feel disrespected by what I said, and I understand that’s what’s going to happen.

And you know what? I believe Noah’s being sincere. I believe that he’s genuinely shaken by his mistake. He’s acting and reacting with the attitude and grace of someone who knows he screwed up.

What Noah’s been doing since Sunday night is exactly what it should look like every time this happens. He did something stupid, and when it was brought to light, he offered a sincere apology and said he’d accept the consequences without reservation.

ESPN caught up with recently-out Phoenix Suns President Rick Welts for his reaction to the incident. Welts will become increasingly important as the conversation about homophobia in sports continues, a role that he seems to understand.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s another teachable moment,” Welts told ESPN The Magazine’s Ric Bucher. “It should generate more intelligent dialogue. We’ve been afraid to talk about it and we’re not afraid to talk about it anymore. I’m proud that the NBA has taken the approach that it has.

“I had the pleasure of having dinner with Noah in the run-up to the draft when he came into the league and I found him to be a very humble, very kind, genuine human being. So I do have this personal connection with him and because of that I feel a little sorry for him that he finds himself in this situation. … The intention of the words were to sting, but there has to be understanding that the words carry a weight beyond that.”

Others, though, still aren’t ready to accept that using the word “faggot” isn’t okay.

Take, for example, Chicago White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen. He was fined and ordered to undergo “sensitivity training” (Do we still call it that?) for a similar incident in 2006. From the Chicago Sun Times:

“That’s not a good word in this country,” he said, referring to the homosexual slur Noah directed at a fan attending the Bulls-Heat game Sunday in Miami. “Even though everybody says it, it’s not a good word.”

“Unfortunately, that happens to athletes and to people .  .  . to us,” Guillen said. “I bet you a lot of people say that out on the street, and they don’t get in trouble. I went through it. It’s a very painful moment because sometimes you regret what you say.

“But in the meanwhile, nobody took a look at why he said it. He’s not going to say that because he’s crazy. Maybe some guy was playing with him and made him mad. And the first thing that comes to your mind is that word, even if you don’t want to.  .  .

“It’s a mistake you regret. You have to be careful what you do and what you say when you’re an athlete and you’re a public figure. .  .  . That’s the part I don’t like about being a public figure, that people take advantage of that. .  .  . And we’re the ones that get punished, paying fines, getting embarrassed and being in front of the TV saying, ‘I apologize to people, I don’t mean it, I’m sorry.’ Those people put us on the spot to say what we say. Unfortunately, that happened.”

Or Mike Tokito of The Oregonian:

But is it also possible that there were extenuating circumstances that led to Noah saying what he did? Indications from his teammates are that the fan was a particularly onerous heckler.

. . . It’s such a fine line — we love it when players compete with the kind of passion Noah displays, and yet they’re supposed to keep it under control under certain circumstances.

Or Samantha Steele, a FOX reporter who took to twitter Monday night to ask:

Can someone please clarify these Kobe/J Noah fines.. What is the rule? You can’t say anything offensive? Offensive to whom?

. . . then played Glenn Beck’s “I’m asking questions!!!” game.

And there’s the thing. People like Joakim Noah? They get it. They might mess up need to be reminded of their better nature from time to time, but they get it.

Others like Guillen, Tokito, and Steele just don’t, and they’re the ones we really have to be worried about. Because it’s not PC run amuck, it’s not a fine line, and it’s not confusing. AT ALL.

Are they willing to learn? I fear that they’re not.

Then again, I was wrong about Joakim Noah. Maybe I’ll be wrong again.