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Column: Kobe Bryant learned from his homophobia, which brings us to Thom Brennaman

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant became an LGBTQ equality advocate after directing an anti-gay slur at an NBA referee.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

When Kobe Bryant died, many of us who work in and around the NBA were asked to share our favorite Kobe story. My recollection was a deeply personal one. It was watching his transformation from the man who was fined $100,000 for directing an anti-gay slur at referee Bennie Adams in 2011 to an LGBTQ equality advocate.

To understand how much Bryant’s self-examination and ultimate change meant to me, know that there were only two players I insisted my son watch live: Allen Iverson and Kobe. The fact that both men were attached to ugly, homophobic moments offers a glimpse into how difficult it can be for some LGBTQ people to work in a field in which caricatured masculinity is considered currency. Like many gay men, I love sports and refuse to be chased out by simple-minded men, especially by those dudes who can’t get women to like them but are convinced every gay man wants them.

Fox Sports will not use longtime Cincinnati Reds broadcaster Thom Brennaman to cover NFL games this season after he used an anti-gay slur on live air.

Bruh, stop.

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Anyway, the point is Kobe changed because he did more than pay a fine and issue a clumsy, weak apology. He did the work. He spoke with me, he spoke with LGBTQ organizations and then, when he was comfortable, he spoke out against homophobia — not because the NBA or sponsors made him but because, to quote the late John Lewis, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.”

I love sports and refuse to be chased out by simpleminded men, especially by those dudes who can’t get women to like them but are convinced every gay man wants them.

That brings us to Thom Brennaman, the Fox Sports announcer who got caught dropping a “fag” bomb on air. I don’t know Brennaman, but I do know this: He may not have meant to say what he said on live television but he meant to say it. So, the real question for Major League Baseball, in general, and the Cincinnati Reds, specifically, is why did someone who has been calling games for more than 30 years feel comfortable enough to drop an anti-gay slur in a workplace environment in 2020?

There are openly gay executives in MLB — including my friends Erik Braverman, a senior vice president for the Dodgers, as well as onetime Dodger Billy Bean, who is a special assistant to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. There may not be any openly gay male athletes playing in the big four sports, but we’ve heard several coming-out stories after players retired. There was even an openly gay man running for president.

Yet, Brennaman felt relaxed enough, within earshot of technicians and other colleagues, to casually drop a reference to an unknown locale as “one of the fag capitals of the world.”

WARNING: Graphic language in the video below.

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I don’t know if Brennaman regrets his actions or not and, honestly, I really don’t care. Besides, the story isn’t about him. If he grows from this, great; if he does not, I won’t be surprised. The story is the culture that made him believe that a private setting — or what Brennaman believed to be a private setting — was a sanctuary for his hate.

Suspending or even firing Brennaman — Fox Sports issued a statement Thursday that said “we are moving forward with our NFL schedule which will not include” Brennaman and that Brennaman’s remarks were “abhorrent, unacceptable, and not representative of the values of Fox Sports” — isn’t the real work.

MLB launching an investigation into the workplace environment at Fox — the league’s biggest rights holder — is.

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Eliminating Brennaman — who also had the gall to play the man-of-faith card in his much-lampooned apology — isn’t a silver bullet. Removing the Confederate flag from the race track didn’t cleanse NASCAR of racism. Polished PSA’s have yet to rid the NFL of misogyny. Removing Brennaman won’t expunge homophobia from baseball any more than Jackie Robinson’s first at-bat turned America into a gorgeous mosaic.

These are all but single steps on the journey. If that sounds arduous, it’s because it is. But little queer boys and girls need to know America’s pastime is for them as well, because for too long voices like Brennaman’s have told them that it isn’t. Changing that is far more important than coddling homophobes, regardless of how long they’ve been allowed to fester.


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