THE BLOG
04/15/2011 05:39 pm ET Updated Jun 15, 2011

Kobe's Hurtful Words

In Judaism, it's a sin to utter hateful speech. It's one of the things for which we apologize in the Al-Chet prayer on Yom Kippur. In fact, the mea culpa is repeated several times, albeit with different wording.

Why bring this up now, on the figurative eve of Passover? Because LA Lakers star and future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant chose to curse out an NBA official by using a phrase that is offensive to the gay and lesbian community.

The networks and sports shows "black-screened" his mouth, but if you can read lips at all, you can figure out what he said here (assuming the powers that be don't force the removal of the video from YouTube).

Of course, all the pundits raised their eyebrows and hands in horror, as if the use of such language is all of a sudden shocking. And, of course, NBA commissioner David Stern fined Bryant, as he is wont to do any time anyone says something he doesn't want, or doesn't want the public, to hear (such as the $75 Gs he liberated from Lakers coach Phil Jackson for opining about the potential lockout next season.) Reminds me of the lines in Mr. Roberts in which the Captain of a WWII Navy cargo ship (played by James Cagney) upbraids executive officer Roberts (Henry Fonda) about the use of the word "disharmony" when requesting a transfer.

William C. Rhoden published an excellent column in The New York Times in which he suggested that rather than the $100,000 fine --- which represents 0.4 percent of Bryant's $27 mil salary --- Stern should have suspended him for the first game of the playoff against the New Orleans Hornets.

Rhoden referred to Bryant's pro forma apology as "obligatory" and "soulless." Here, he quotes Bryant:

"What I said last night should not be taken literally," his statement said. "My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period. The words expressed do not reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were not meant to offend anyone."

What does that mean, "not be taken literally?" And that part about "not meant to offend anyone" is obviously a lie: it was meant to offend the referee. Bryant yelled at him to get his attention and then uttered the slur; there's nothing worse you can say to a guy in the homophobic sports world than something to challenge his manhood.

Rhoden continued:

We live in a world in which money has increasingly become a substitute for morality, where it cures all. Commit a crime, throw money at it; hurl an insult, pay a fine ... Had Stern sat Bryant down for a playoff game, rather than administer checkbook justice, the league would have made a forceful statement about its intolerance with intolerance. Some say that would have been overkill. Hardly. Not in an atmosphere in which intolerance seems to be stiffening...

Throwing a $100,000 fine at Bryant for hurling an epithet at an authority figure on national television is a symbolic gesture. Sitting Bryant out for a playoff game, ratings be damned, would send a powerful message that slogans aside, the N.B.A. really does care.

So I guess the NBA is merely paying lip service (as it were) to the problem. Stern must feel he had to do something to placate the offended parties. But sit one of the faces of the game to prove a point? Hey, let's not get carried away here; principles will only get you so far.

Since Bryant once suggested he might want to become a Jew, I thought it would be appropriate to give him a taste of what as he attends synagogue on some future Yom Kippur; let him get started on his atoning early.

And for the sin which we have committed before You with an utterance of the lips.

And for the sin which we have committed before You through speech.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by improper thoughts.

And for the sin which we have committed before You intentionally or unintentionally.

For the sin which we have committed before You by impurity of speech.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by foolish talk.

For the sin which we have committed before You with the evil inclination.

And for the sin which we have committed before You knowingly or unknowingly.

For the sin which we have committed before You by the prattle of our lips.

And for the sin which we have committed before You in passing judgment.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by a begrudging eye.

For the sin which we have committed before You by swearing in vain.

(Adapted from Chabad.org)