Hours before five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant uttered an anti-gay slur during a basketball game Tuesday, NBA players Grant Hill and Jared Dudley entered the US Airways Center in Phoenix to serve as role models of a very different kind.
The Phoenix Suns teammates -- players who proved to be as gifted off the court as on it -- filmed a public service announcement for GLSEN, the Ad Council and the NBA as part of the "Think Before You Speak" campaign. The message is one we very dearly wish had been heard a few hundred miles away in Los Angeles.
Using anti-gay language is wrong. Always. Whether you mean for it to hurt someone or not.
The PSA, which will air during the NBA playoffs, is part of GLSEN and the Ad Council's effort to address anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender language among teenagers. The NBA loved the campaign created by ArnoldNYC, which launched in 2008, and asked to get involved. We couldn't have asked for a better partner, in terms of passion for the message and commitment to its success.
None of us could have imagined how timely the campaign would become.
A huge amount of credit goes to the NBA for partnering with us long before Kobe's offensive and hurtful comment, just as the league deserves credit for its swift and stern response and $100,000 fine.
But the fact that slurs like this one are even a part of his lexicon demonstrate how far we still need to go to teach respect of all people, particularly those who are or are perceived to be LGBT.
We presume one of the big reasons is the tolerance -- in schools and society -- for language like the slur Kobe used.
Coincidentally, this Friday marks the 15th anniversary of the first Day of Silence, a day sponsored by GLSEN when hundreds of thousands of students at middle schools, high schools and colleges across the country take a voluntary vow of silence to raise awareness about anti-LGBT bullying in schools and on campuses. It is a problem that has been ignored for far too long, and we too often see the dire consequences of inaction on the lives of young people.
Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students said they'd been harassed in the past year because of their sexual orientation in GLSEN's 2009 National School Climate Survey on the experiences of LGBT youth in schools. Three out of 5 said they felt unsafe because of who they are.
Until students on campus, or on teams representing their schools, feel they are protected no matter who they are, we cannot give up the fight to stop abusive language that targets children.
International sports superstars like Kobe Bryant are looked up to by millions of young people and are emulated, on and off the court. The NBA, Grant Hill and Jared Dudley made a real statement off the court this week by taking part in a campaign that will inform millions of youth that respect and acceptance are the values that they should bring to their lives -- and to the games they play.
All of us truly can make a difference -- from NBA stars to everyday people to young people in schools. It really is as simple as thinking before you speak.
Follow Eliza Byard on Twitter: www.twitter.com/EByard