L.A. Times Justifies Using Slur in Kobe Bryant Story

Printing the basketball star’s homophobic epithet uncensored was essential for “clarity and accountability,” paper says

Last Updated: April 18, 2011 @ 6:57 PM

Say what you will about the Los Angeles Times — it certainly isn't afraid to spell things out. At least where Kobe Bryant's foul-mouth outburst last week is concerned.

Bryant found himself embroiled in controversy after calling a referee a “f—ing faggot” during a televised NBA game last week. And the Times stands pretty much alone among its colleagues in reproducing the latter part of Bryant's epithet.

Unlike other outlets who referred to Bryant’s outburst with only vague descriptions, the L.A. Times printed the word uncensored in writer Mike Bresnahan’s article about Bryant’s outburst. (At least, the second F-word — the first F-word was referred to as "a curse word.")

By contrast, the New York Times referred to Bryant's utterance as a "gay slur," while the Chicago Tribune considered it more of an "anti-gay slur." Over at the San Francisco Chronicle, meanwhile, Bryant was said to have used a "derogatory gay term." None of the above outlets chose to run the actual word itself, either in full or obscured form.

So what prompted the Times to print the word in its offensive entirety? According to Nancy Sullivan, the Times' senior vice president of communications, the specific phrase was so central to the story that the Times’ editorial brass deemed it necessary.

Also read: "Kobe's Slur: Why the NBA and ts Broadcast Partners Deserve a Technical, Too"

Sullivan tells Larry Brown Sports, “Derogatory terms such as the one in the Kobe Bryant story are rarely printed in the paper, for obvious reasons. However, when the use of the word IS the story, as was the case with Bryant’s utterance, it is important to print it for clarity and accountability. This has happened with the other offensive terms in years past. But using such offensive words is never done lightly and, as was the case in this instance, is always cleared at the highest level of the editorial department. There needs to be a very good reason to use it, and in this case, because Bryant’s use of the term and the strong reaction to it from several different corners were the reason for the story, our judgment was to go with it.”

Bryant’s verbal blunder occurred on Tuesday night, during a tight game against the San Antonio Spurs. After receiving a technical foul, Bryant threw a towel, slammed a chair and mouthed the words “f—ing faggot” at referee Bennie Adams — a foul-mouthed lip-synching routine that was captured by the camera during TNT’s broadcast of the game.

Bryant apologized the next day as the public uproar grew, explaining in a statement, “The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.” The Lakers guard was nonetheless slapped with a $100,000 fine by NBA Commissioner David Stern.