Any novice lipreader who watches sports knows a good 10 percent of the words that come out of athletes’ mouths during competition are four letters long. And we’re so used to it that when microphones on the playing surface pick up the occasional profanity, we rarely flinch — and commentators rarely acknowledge it.
But when a mic catches an athlete directing a slur at someone else — we take notice, as we ought to.
On Friday, Houston Dynamo midfielder Colin Clark was clearly heard hurling a gay slur at someone on the pitch in Seattle. The target? A ball boy.
After the match, Clark offered an apology on his Twitter account.
I'd like to offer a sincere apology to everyone who watched the game, especially the ball boy for whom I used awful language towards.— Colin Clark (@cOlin_cLark7) March 24, 2012
I didn't mean to disrespect anyone and am sorry for letting my emotions get the best of me. It's not who I am and it won't happen again.— Colin Clark (@cOlin_cLark7) March 24, 2012
Major League Soccer said it will “look into the matter and decide if (Clark will) face any disciplinary action.”
“We are aware of the incident involving Houston Dynamo midfielder Colin Clark during the game in Seattle Friday night, and his public apology for it,” the league said in a statement. “MLS is conducting a thorough review of the facts and examining possible disciplinary action.”
In a sport that continues to confront racism in domestic leagues and international competitions, homophobic slurs may be another problem altogether. And as we’ve recently seen in the NBA, it’s an issue that transcends sport.
Last April, five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant directed a homophobic slur at a referee. He was fined $100,000 for the incident and issued an apology, saying “the words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.”
The backlash was considerable, but Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, who spoke with Bryant after the incident, called it “a teachable moment for the millions of fans — many of them young — who saw that outburst on the floor.”
One month later, Bulls center Joakim Noah directed a homphobic slur — using the same word Bryant did — at a fan during a Chicago loss to the Miami Heat. Noah said he “was just caught in the moment. A fan said something that was disrespectful toward me, and I responded. I have to take the consequences like a man. It was just a bad decision on my part.”
Noah was only fined $50,000 for the incident. Clark’s 2011 salary was worth $98,713, so expect a considerably smaller fine coming his way from MLS.
The NBA began running NBA Cares ads promoting inclusiveness following the Bryant incident. Now a number of NHL stars have unveiled the “You Can Play” movement, which is dedicated to purging sports locker rooms of homophobia and discrimination.
There are still no openly gay athletes currently competing in the four major professional sports in the United States, and these types of outbursts do nothing to encourage gay athletes that their peers would support them should they come out.
The MLS should come down hard on Clark — both for his words, and for the ball boy at whom he directed them. Regardless of whether they came “in the heat of the moment,” the incident provided a jarring reminder that discrimination and homophobia persist in professional sports, and more must be done to eliminate discrimination in athletic competition.
(H/T Dirty Tackle)