*Special note: My interpretation of acting on the following quote is by writing about it, because it involves the idea that words are powerful. Instead of literally doing something as a result of this piece of advice, I wrote about about it in relation to a specific happening on Tuesday, April 12th.
Margaret Atwood can teach Kobe Bryant a thing or two about the power of words. The famous literary force once wrote, “A word after a word after a word is power.” While it may initially seem like the two respective stars have little to nothing in common, they would probably be able to strike up a vivid conversation around this one idea in particular.
In a Laker game against the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, April 12th, referee Bennie Adams called a technical foul against Kobe Bryant. The guard reacted by cursing and muttered a homophobic comment, all for the cameras to capture on live, national television. The five-time NBA champ ponied up a $100,000 fine to the league and was publicly condemned by NBA commissioner, David Stern.
The age-old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” doesn’t exactly speak to the experiences of those who have been directly affected by the power of words. Bullying, teasing, and verbal abuse all incorporate the concept of negative word usage; the harmful meaning behind a few letters strung together creates a negative context for them to be released into the world.
The words expressed on Tuesday night, which won’t be repeated here, do not define who Kobe Bryant is as a professional athlete. It also doesn’t define him as a person. It does, however, affect how fans view their favorite all star and complicate the issue of human rights in popular culture. All because of one thoughtless moment and two toxic words.
Kobe Bryant’s anti gay remark is complicated by his role model status. Fame enables individuals in the spotlight to impact viewers professionally and personally; it comes with the territory of celebrity in American culture. It’s Kobe’s imperfections, however, that allow people to come to terms with his utter normalcy as opposed to being held on a celebrity pedestal. It’s the fact that these flaws are publicly displayed that requires Bryant to be extremely thoughtful with his word choice.
Racist, sexist, and homophobic slurs have existed for as long as our history books allow us to remember. They’ve served as tools to put people down and, in turn, allow others to rise above. Language is the most powerful and accessible tool that human beings possess; it is at the base of all forms of communication. While it has the potential to cause damage, much like Kobe’s offensive comment, it can also bring about positive change and awareness.
The personal always proves to be political, and how a basketball player conducts himself on and off the court is relevant to his fans. If Kobe Bryant slipped up on Tuesday night with one gay slur, chances are they’re not exactly foreign to his tongue. While he may view a few simple words to be insignificant in the long run, they simultaneously mean everything. These words mean everything to young women and men conflicted with their sexualities, just looking for some support to figure it out. They mean everything to gay basketball players who try to remain respected in a predominantly homophobic and misogynistic atmosphere. They mean everything to fans who stick by Kobe, mess up after mess up, apology after apology.
Bryant should not be held more or less accountable for his actions than anyone else, but he needs to realize his power as a famous figure in popular culture. He’s a role model to many, and his overall impact reaches far and wide. Issuing an apology after the fact simply isn’t enough; taking preemptive measures to ensure that situations like this won’t continue to arise might be a more beneficial strategy. It’s always best to think before you speak, especially when the whole world is watching.
Personifying Atwood’s famous piece of advice would be a smart move for #24. He needs to realize that fans and the general public interpret his words as powerful and vital. While celebrities may have more influence than others, it’s important for all people to be conscious of their word choices at all times. Both Margaret Atwood and Kobe Bryant have alternately demonstrated there is more power allocated in one single word than most people realize. That power needs to be used wisely.