Paying the Price for Tweeting Homophobia
It’s a welcome change in attitudes to these kinds of comments from a section of society that, till now, has largely seemed to accept that their players make disparaging comments.
Recent examples are Lee Steele, a professional soccer player, who has been fined by the Football Association in the UK for a comment he made about out gay ex-rugby star, Gareth Thomas. He was also released from his contract with Oxford City. While Thomas was taking part in the reality TV show Celebrity Big Brother. Steele Tweeted:
I wouldn’t fancy the bed next to Gareth Thomas. #padlockmyarse
Another example is West Ham United midfielder Ravel Morrison who has been also charged by the Football Association in the UK for a similar Tweet in which he refers to someone as “a faggot”. Morrison has defended himself by saying his comment was in direct response to racist abuse he has received from the person in question, but he has nevertheless been charged and subsequently pled guilty.
This after Leicester City player Michael Ball was fined £6,000 for a comment he made about Coronation Street and I’m A Celebrity star, Anthony Cotton, also on Twitter. Ball admitted to the charge of bringing the game into disrepute for his Tweet:
That fucking queer. Get back to your sewing machine in Corrie, you moaning bastard
That fine was the largest ever given out under Football Association rules: E3(1) and E3(2), by making “a reference to a person or persons’ sexual orientation”. Leicester City have also taken the decision to cancel the player’s contract.
That’s three in a few months. This is not just happening in the world of soccer. Last November Welsh rugby team, The Ospreys, fined their player, Wing Kristian Phillips, for homophobic comments. The fine has not been defined but to be fair, the club have said:
Ospreys Rugby does not condone the use of such language
It’s not the first time they have danced with this kind of controversy either. Out gay rugby referee Nigel Owens has referred to back-five forward Jonathan Thomas’ alleged homophobic comments as “banter,” but not everyone would agree.
On the other side of the pond, the NBA have also been handing out fines, very large ones at that. For example, Chicago Bull Joakim Noah was playing a game and shouted:
Fuck you, faggot!
This was directed at a fan and Noah was rewarded with a $50,000 fine for his trouble. Even before that, over in LA, Kobe Bryant was fined a massive $100,000 for comments he made to a referee who gave a foul against him, he later apologised due to fans reactions to his choice of words.
I think we can learn a great deal from the size of the fines handed out in the States and also the fact that they were handed out for comments made during a game, no “written evidence” was needed, no record of Tweets.
Overall, these are steps that take us in the right direction. Away from accepting homophobia and closer to gays feeling freer and more comfortable going to see sports events and hopefully to come out whilst still professional sports people.
Out gay former NBA player John Amaechi, he sums it up by saying:
When sports stars use slurs, it is especially damaging because their increased public profile means many more people are exposed. These people seem to have lost sight of the fact that in their prime, in pivotal moments in games, they are one of the most influential people in the world.
Justin Fontaine, a rookie ice hockey player, with the Houston Aeros was suspended for two games by his club recently. In his case he was responding to something his room mate had Tweeted about the Foo Fighters. Fontaine’s defense was that it was an unfortunate choice of words on his part, however, the Aeros are right in punishing him, these kinds of lessons have to be learned, the word “faggot” should never be used, by anyone, ever.
Homophobic rants seem to be happening in many sports. Let’s not forget Olympic champion figure skater Evan Lysacek using the Twittersphere to attack fellow skater Johnny Weir. (See original comments here). In his case he said his account was hacked.
This move against homophobia is not just aimed at the players either, CNN’s Roland Martin was suspended for homophobic Tweets written during the Super Bowl earlier this month.
I am delighted to see organisations and clubs punishing their players and commentators for these kinds of slurs. Let’s hope it starts to make a difference in attitudes as well as actions, both on and off the field.