Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Guest column: About that delayed reaction to Hibbert's comments

Published in Lafayette Journal & Courier, Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Link: http://www.jconline.com/article/20130603/OPINION03/306030010

By Clyde Hughes, for the Journal & Courier

It was a freelance sports writing assignment late Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and I’m holding an audio recorder in a news conference no more than 10 feet away from Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert. He just played one of his best playoff games in helping beat the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals.

In a room of reporters during an interview that was broadcast live, Hibbert and teammate Paul George were chipper in responding to question after their big win. Then, Hibbert said something that absolutely floored me — something I rarely get in athlete news conferences.

“I really felt I let Paul down (in Game 3) in terms of having his back when LeBron was scoring in the post or getting to the paint, because they stretched me out so much. No homo.”

“No homo,” as in a slur for homosexual. I thought immediately: “Whoa, did he really just say that.”

The comment, then, was followed by chuckles from Hibbert, George and the media corps. In fact, the giggles and smiles from the press corps was so evident that I started to second-guess myself about whether the comment was even made. There were certainly no follow up questions to the comment at the time.

“Maybe I must misheard it,” I told myself. Looking back over the media transcript after the press conference, the comment was deleted. When I reviewed the recording, though, there it was, as plain as day.

By this time, the beat reporter for the organization I was working for talked about the incident and another Hibbert expletive during the press conference. He also wrote about the incident.

By Sunday, Hibbert issued his Pacer media department crafted concession.

“I am apologizing for insensitive remarks made during the postgame press conference after our victory over Miami Saturday night. They were disrespectful and offensive and not a reflection of my personal views. I used a slang term that is not appropriate in any setting, private or public, and the language I used definitely has no place in a public forum, especially over live television.”

There are some things that quickly reach beyond the basketball court or any sports venue. There are countless history lessons on how society has struggled to overcome prejudice and discrimination. Those wins and losses come in small doses, as well as big ones.

One would think after the trouble some athletes have gotten into for using such slurs that Hibbert would have been much smarter. While fellow reporters made sure the star center was held accountable after the press conference, I am surprised a question about the comment wasn’t put to Hibbert at that moment.

Would it have made a difference whether the media responded at the press conference or immediately after the comment was made? I think it could have sent a message that such comments should be stopped in their tracks, instead of going along with the joke. Yes, we were all facing a tight deadline for a late-ending game. With Hibbert opening the door, it was a subject that needed to be addressed, and at the time, it wasn’t.

It left me wondering: Do we in media actually create the climate for such comments, only to show our fangs in an effort jump on bandwagon in the aftermath? Was it the right time to take on the issue? Of course, it was.

After Jason Collins came out in April, with overwhelming support he received from fellow NBA players and society, one would have thought we have moved forward just a little bit regarding LGBT issues. Hibbert is hardly the first athlete to use such terms this year, even, and it shows we are still in the starting blocks.

Maybe this is one of those teachable moments for Hibbert, as suggested by Yahoo Sports Dan Devine.

“We like players who like to joke around, and we like players willing to offer something more than just standard clich├ęs,” Devine said in his “Ball Don’t Lie” column Sunday. “It just kind of sucks that this — the “no homo” thing, particularly — was in Hibbert’s mind in the first place. Here’s hoping that apology comes from a place of earnest recognition and not from a place of fearful, frantic damage control.”

Maybe we as journalists can get athletes to start doing that soul searching just a little faster.

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