One game, two games, three games? What exactly is the appropriate penalty for the anti-gay comments Rajon Rondo directed at NBA referee Bill Kennedy almost two weeks ago in Mexico City?
The one-game suspension certainly can be argued – too long, too short, too much. But Rondo, the first NBA player suspended for uttering anti-gay remarks, doesn’t deserve a pass. This is not a trend the league wants followed.
Joakim Noah ($50,000) and Kobe Bryant ($100,000) were fined in 2011 for making anti-gay comments to a fan and referee, respectively. A decade before that, former Kings guard Jason Williams escaped with a $15,000 slap when an internal investigation determined that he allegedly responded to a heckler seated courtside at a Kings-Warriors game in Oakland with a series of anti-gay and racist slurs.
In a modern world gone mad, where members of both political parties soil all over the concept of civil discourse and conversation, where no one seemingly knows how to use a napkin or otherwise mind their manners, Rondo had an opportunity Monday to stand up and lead. He had a chance to publicly apologize to fans, teammates, bosses and most importantly to Kennedy and anyone else whose sexual orientation presumably differs from his own. And add Kennedy’s colleague Violet Palmer to the list; the long-time official years ago acknowledged she was gay.
Yet here it is, December 2015, and instead of stepping up, Rondo finished shooting jumpers and expressed his thoughts via Twitter. “My actions during the game were out of frustration and emotion, period!” he tweeted. “They absolutely do not reflect my feelings toward the LGBT community. I did not mean to offend or disrespect anyone.”
So why not just say he’s sorry? And say so publicly instead of tweeting a comment that sounds more like a 140-character cop-out than apology? Didn’t we learn anything from Bill Clinton?
“I felt (Rondo’s response) was a little wishy-washy,” said Donald Bentz, the executive director of the Sacramento branch of the LGBT, “but I definitely felt the Kings management offered a strong apology. That was very encouraging. And the fact that (Rondo) was suspended was good. The Kings and the league are sending a message to everyone that there will be consequences and repercussions for using language like this. It doesn’t matter if you were upset or emotional. You still can’t use that word. This whole thing is indicative of an ongoing evolution we are having in society in terms of the words we use. And does it happen again? That’s what you have to keep an eye on.”
The incident and its aftermath are damaging on so many levels. The NBA prides itself on its reputation as the most progressive of the major sports. The Kings are quick to cite the diversity within their franchise; two of their principal owners are Indian, the president of business operations is a woman, and former WNBA legend and NBA Development League coach Nancy Lieberman became the league’s second female assistant coach last summer.
Yet by avoiding the media Monday, Rondo diluted and obfuscated the message, simultaneously delegating the damage control to his coach, his general manager and his owner, Vivek Ranadive, who was among the most vocal advocates two seasons ago when the league – weary of Donald Sterling’s racial and discriminatory behavior – negotiated the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers.
“We are role models, and we have to act like it,” Divac said. “We have certain values that we represent. You don’t do anything stupid. Talking with Rajon today, he feels terrible about this. I don’t have any doubt about that. But I have known Bill (Kennedy) for years, and I will support him in any way.”
Peace, love, acceptance, civility. Isn’t it about time?