Five years ago, Chicago and the White Sox were at the epicenter of an international controversy surrounding Ozzie Guillen's use of a gay slur to insult a writer he despised.
A huge star coming off a World Series victory, every word Guillen said bordered on worldwide headlines.
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That created a tremendous opening to advance a genuine discussion of anti-gay language as part of American -- and especially male athletic -- lexicon, but instead disintegrated into staked-out positions against the writer or Guillen.
Nothing was accomplished and a grand opportunity lost.
Five years later, little has changed and the discussion continues to be superficial at best and useless at worst, as daily is the news that an athlete has hurled gay invectives at someone.
It has always lurked beneath the public consciousness, but with instant media and ubiquitous technology it has reached epidemic proportions of late, and it's the same procedure each time as we go through the tedious steps.
First, the slur is revealed. Next, the player, agent and team move into full damage control. That's followed by the apology and often genuine sorrow that such words were voiced publicly.
But never, seemingly, is there an actual discussion about the words themselves and why they are hurtful.
The focus is always on the act, the criticism and the contrition.
Nothing came out of Guillen affair. Not one useful moment. That was mostly a chance for those who hated Guillen to demonize him and a chance for those who had a grudge against the writer to take their shots.
And never was there a sensible discussion of the "f'' word.
Yes, a lot of people use it and many don't mean it as an insult toward gays. They mean it as an insult toward the person they're insulting.
And while you can never be certain of what's in someone's heart, I tend to believe people like Guillen and Joakim Noah when they say they meant no ill will toward the gay community.
But that doesn't make it OK, says a gay friend, because by using it as a put-down, it is by definition insulting and offensive to the gay community.
And if it's not OK to offend blacks, Muslims, Jews, or Hispanics -- with words most people would never dream of using -- why is it still OK to freely use gay-bashing language in 2011?
Seriously, can you imagine a white Chicago baseball player calling a black teammate the "n'' word?
Off the top of my head, I'm thinking he'd hear about it from the president, Congress, the governor, the mayor, Jesse Jackson, the commissioner of baseball, and the team owner, GM and manager -- even before his teammates had their say.
My guess is a two-week suspension without pay and I don't believe the players association would consider getting in the way.
Personally, if I owned the team I'd send the guy home for a month and force him to pick up an elementary school history book.
The "f'' word is tossed about and with that a player issues a one-sentence apology and a 30-second Public Service Announcement, but to someone who's gay, the "f'' word is just as bad.
That is the point and that is the teachable moment.
You wouldn't expect some professional athletes to get that without someone taking the time to explain it to them, but if that can be done and they can fully comprehend, imagine the work they could do explaining it to others in the communities from whence they came.
You could skip the standard, run-of-the-mill, pathetic PSA that comes off as trite and insincere.
I don't know Kobe Bryant enough to know whether he really dislikes anyone except referees, and, frankly, I freely admit here my own bias against officials of all sports, shapes and sizes.
But what I also don't know is if Bryant really understands why the "f'' word is disgusting and offensive in the same way the "n'' word is representative of the most horrific history of our country.
But imagine if Bryant really got it, and really wanted others to understand that. Then, you'd really gain from the conversation that began with Bryant's insult of a ref.
That, however, never happens.
Insult. Criticism. Damage control. Apology.
No genuine discussion.
DeSean Jackson just went through the process after using all the worst anti-gay language, and this is the same Jackson who went unsolicited to the aid of a 13-year-old Pennsylvania boy a few months ago who had been bullied in school and tormented with homophobic slurs.
So Jackson appears to have a good heart, and yet learned nothing from his experience because apparently no one took the time to explain to him why the words are harmful.
What we always get are the apologies for the words, when it's not about the words. It's about the failure to understand why the words hurt.
For the hard of reading, if you're using it as a put-down, it is by definition insulting and offensive to those sadly defined by the words.
But five years after Ozzie Guillen, the same superficial discussions take place, and it's unthinkable to imagine a gay pro athlete coming out in this climate.
So let's stop blathering on with meaningless apologies already and actually discuss acceptance.
That's what this is really about: acceptance.
Every day, kids are bullied, some are beaten, others killed, and some take their own lives, leaving grieving parents to suffer in loneliness and wonder what kind of society -- what kind of country -- offers this punishment to their children for merely existing.
So let's attempt something different. When another pro athlete tweets the same mistake -- and it'll probably happen today -- perhaps we can have a genuine conversation about it.
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