A recent gay slur Rajon Rondo directed at NBA referee Bill Kennedy drew only a one-game suspension. It should have been treated far more harshly, says former Seattle resident Jesse Klug, a soccer player from Bucknell.
One game for what a community of millions considers the most vile word in the English language.
One game for a slur that spits on tolerance and gives progress the finger.
Earlier this month, Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo called a gay referee something that starts with an “f”, ends with a “t”, and is well past the point of being printable. Yet all he received was a one-game suspension served 12 days after the incident.
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This was by no means a firm sentence handed down from a league intent on change. Though the NBA upgraded the punishment from a fine — which was Kobe Bryant’s penance for the same offense four years ago — this was no socially conscious stride.
This wasn’t sufficient discipline for an all-too-common slur with far-too-painful consequences.
One game. One major opportunity missed.
For all the advances we’ve seen in regards to LGBT acceptance, there are still constant, cutting slips of tongue. No matter how frustrated Rondo may have been when he barked at NBA official Bill Kennedy, the fact that this word came out is alarming.
Granted, we don’t know for sure that Rondo knew of Kennedy’s sexual orientation because Kennedy didn’t come out publicly until after the suspension was issued. But should that even matter in 2015? Can’t we agree that, no matter what the circumstance, this slur is about as malicious as they come?
That’s one of the questions former Seattle resident Jesse Klug posed when I spoke with him Wednesday. A senior soccer player at Bucknell University, Klug was named a Senior CLASS first-team All-American last week.
The honor placed Klug in the top five nationally among men’s soccer student-athletes judged in four areas: community, classroom, character and competition. And the fact that he has been so outspoken about LGBT issues in sports undoubtedly helped his case.
In 2013, Klug wrote “An open letter to those who disapprove of homosexuality,” which ended up being the third-most-read story on outsports.com that year. The piece covered an array of issues, but touched poignantly on the hurtful nature of anti-gay epithets. And after reading up on the Rondo situation — from the altercation, to the delayed punishment, to the minimal suspension — Klug couldn’t help but make a comparison.
“If it was a white player calling a black person the N-word, no way is it one game,” said Klug, a graduate of Overlake School in Redmond. “I think it should be treated in a similar fashion.”
And why wouldn’t it be?
Don’t forget that NBA commissioner Adam Silver is the same man who banned former Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league for life after his racist rant was caught on tape. Sterling’s ouster was universally celebrated as a stance against bigotry.
I’m not saying that Rondo is a bigot — he tweeted a halfhearted apology before a more demonstrative one a few days later — but I do know that certain words make sticks and stones feel like Nerf balls.
Klug considers himself lucky to be surrounded by teammates who accept him for who he is. To this day, he is taunted about his sexuality by opponents on the pitch.
But while the barbs don’t slow him down one millisecond, he knows that not everybody can be as strong.
“I think the most harm that word causes is toward people who aren’t out and are considering coming out,” Klug said. “Because once they hear that, it forces them right back into the closet.”
Obviously, this country has made exponential progress when it comes to LGBT rights and tolerance. Gay marriage is legal in 50 states, gay celebrities are visible in the entertainment world, and gay athletes such as Jason Collins have broken barriers in sports. But that doesn’t extinguish LGBT discrimination any more than a black president extinguishes racism.
The fact is, prejudice still exists. There has yet to be an openly gay player on an active NFL, NHL or MLB roster, and casual slurs are partly to blame.
Silver could have done more with Rondo. Silver should have done more to Rondo.
Instead he gave one measly game for one nasty word that, if ever spoken again, would be one time too many.