When Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers used “no homo” at a press conference while discussing LeBron James, it set off what has become a predictable chain of events. Athlete makes gay slur. Outcry ensues. Athlete apologizes or sort-of apologizes. League punishes athlete or not. Repeat.
Not all apologies are created equal. I thought Hibbert’s was a model. It was direct and unequivocal and he said he would accept any fine, which turned out to be $75,000 from the NBA. In addition, after Jason Collins came out in April, Hibbert said some very supportive things.
In looking back at athlete gay slurs since 1999, the apologies come in all flavors, from sincere to “non-apology apologies.” Years ago, we used a “Rocker Scale” to categorize anti-gay comments, named in honor of the patron saints of gay slurs, former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker, who made headlines with his 1999 comments about “queers.” I am dusting off the scale to rate apologies in looking back at 21 examples of gay slurs and their aftermath.
The scale ranges from 0 Rockers for a sincere apology to 5 Rockers for no apology, a very lame apology or a non-apology apology. The rating deals with the apology, not the slur. This list is in chronological order.
Alan Gordon, Major League Soccer, 2013
Slur: Gordon of the San Jose Earthquakes was caught on camera mouthing the words, “f—ing faggot” at Portland Timber captain Will Johnson during a game.
Apology: “I sincerely apologize for what I said in our game tonight. Although I said it in the heat of the moment, that language has no place in our game. That is not my character, but there is still no excuse for saying what I said. I made a mistake and I accept full responsibility for my actions. … The language I used came during a heated moment and does not reflect my feelings toward the gay and lesbian community.”
Rocker Scale: 0. He accepted what he did and also his three-game suspension from the league.
Bully Ray, pro wrestler, 2013
Slur: Called a fan a “fag” and a “queer.”
Apology: On Twitter, he wrote: “Made an inappropriate comment to a fan in Chicago. If anyone was offended by this…I do apologize. No harm was meant. Careless of me to use those slurs. Sorry man!! … I personally apologized for my careless choice of words and my ignorance with regard to certain slurs I used.”
Rocker Scale: 3. A lot of weasel words. How could anyone in 2013 be ignorant as to what “fag” and “queer” mean?
Chris Culliver, San Francisco 49ers, 2013
Slur: Culliver had told radio host Artie Lange during Super Bowl week, “I don’t do the gay guys man. I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah…can’t be…in the locker room man. Nah.”
Apology 1: “The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel. It has taken me seeing them in print to realize that they are hurtful and ugly. Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. Further, I apologize to those who I have hurt and offended, and I pledge to learn and grow from this experience.”
Apology 2: ”I apologize. I’m sorry. It’s not what I feel in my heart. I know I will learn from this. … It is a big deal. I’m addressing it so it does not escalate and bring distractions to my teammates.”
Rocker Scale: Overall, a 2. The first apology sucked, the second one was much better as he realized the gravity of what he said.
Tank Carder, Cleveland Browns 2012
Slur: Carder called a fan a “faggot” in a Twitter exchange.He then followed up with: “Saying faggot doesn’t make me homophobic, it’s just a word.”
Apology: ”If I offended anyone in anyway, I do apologize. … I was not bashing the gay community in any way.”
Rocker Scale: 5. Carder sent a begrudging “apology” tweet and never was held accountable for his actions by the Browns.
Marc Burch, Major League Soccer, 2012
Slur: Called an opponent a “faggot.”
Apology: “I apologize for my horrific choice of words last night during our match. This is something that is inconsistent with my family values and because of that I am both disappointed and embarrassed by my level of poor judgment. I take seriously my role as a leader in the community and this is completely regrettable and unacceptable. Character matters and I hope through hard work on and off the field to begin earning your respect and trust again.
The Seattle Sounders player was suspended three games. “I knew when the suspension was coming down that it needed to be harsh, because it’s a harsh thing that I did,” Burch said. “I think [MLS Commissioner] Don Garber made the right decision.”
Rocker Scale: 0. These MLS guys seem to get it.
Noah Syndergaard, pitcher in New York Mets farm organization, 2012
Slur: In a light-hearted joust with a friend on Twitter, Syndergaard shot back, “nice crocs fag lol.”
Apology: “I’d just like to apologize for anything that was said. A buddy and I were having a little conversation. I had a poor attempt at humor and an even worse attempt at using a term I shouldn’t have used. I hope I didn’t offend anybody. I’m really sorry my first introduction to being a New York Met had to be like this.”
Rocker Scale: 4. Not much of an apology from someone who seemed not to know all his tweets were public and thought he was being funny.
Amar’e Stoudemire, New York Knicks, 2012
Slur: Tweet (to a fan): “Fuck you. I don’t have to do any thing fag.”
Apology: “I’m sorry for what I said earlier. … No Excuses. Won’t happen again.” Later: “I am a huge supporter of civil rights for all people. I am disappointed in myself for my statement to a fan. I should have known better and there is no excuse.”
Rocker Scale: 1. He owned up to what he said.
Jonathan Vilma, New Orleans Saints linebacker, 2011
Slur: Tweet 1: “Grown men should NOT hav female tendencies. Period.” Tweet 2 (to a fan): “u must have a man crush on me tweeting 10x in a row. I’m flattered but ewwwww yuck no thanks.”
Apology: When long-time Outsports reader Joe In Philly tweeted, quite observantly, “Grown men should NOT be sexist homophobic assholes,” Vilma called him a “hypersensitive idiot.” He told people offended to “shut up” and never apologized.
Rocker Scale: 5. Actually, Vilma gets his own scale since he never apologized and got more defiant when called out.
Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons, 2012
Slur: White got in a Twitter spat after a fan asked him whether he would rather win the Super Bowl or lead the league in stats and he replied: “Would u rather be gay or straight come on u know that answer?”
Apology: ”OK people I apologize for saying the word gay I know it’s a sensitive subject and a athlete of my stature should not use it.” Later: “I would like to thank all my loyal fans for backing me today. #foruhatersmiddlefinger
Rocker Scale: 5. White seemed anything but contrite, especially when he gave his middle finger to the “haters,” who were simply people calling him out for his slur.
Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, 2011
Slur: Called a referee a “f—ing faggot.”
Apology: ”What I said last night should not be taken literally. My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period. The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.”
Rocker Scale: 1. The original apology was underwhelming, but since then Bryant has called out others for anti-gay tweets and was one of the first NBA players to congratulate Jason Collins for coming out.
James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker, 2011
Slur: Harrison called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a “faggot” (among other things).
Apology: ”I also need to make clear that the comment about Roger Goodell was not intended to be derogatory against gay people in any way. It was careless use of a slang word and I apologize to all who were offended by the remark. I am not a homophobic bigot, and I would never advocate intolerance of gay people.”
Rocker Scale: 2 Harrison’s apology was a hodgepodge, since there is no careful use of “faggot,” yet his last sentence was helpful.
Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls, 2011
Slur: Called a Miami Heat fan a “f—ing faggot.”
Apology: ”I apologize. The fan said something to me that I thought was disrespectful, and I got caught up in the moment, and I responded. I said some things that I shouldn’t have said. I was frustrated and I didn’t mean any disrespect to anybody.”
Rocker Scale: 3. Frustration does not give you a pass.
Larry Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs, 2009
Slur: The running back made numerous gay slurs against fans on Twitter (“fag,” “faggot” and “Christopher Street boy”) and then made a homophobic reference to the media.
Apology: ”First of all, I want to apologize to the fans of the Kansas City Chiefs and the rest of the NFL, Commissioner Goodell, the Chiefs organization, Coach Todd Haley, his staff, and my teammates for the words I used yesterday. I regret my actions. The words were used by me in frustration, and they were not appropriate. I did not intend to offend anyone, but that is no excuse for what I said.”
Rocker Scale: 5. Johnson apologized to everyone except gay people.
Micheal Ray Richardson, former NBA player and, at the time, coach of a minor league basketball team, 2007
Slur: ”Shut the **** up, you faggot,” Richardson shouted to a heckler during a game. He also said, “I’ve got big-time lawyers,” Richardson said when discussing his contract negotiations. “I’ve got big-time Jew lawyers.”
Apology: Richardson was suspended and was surprised by that. “It’s terrible and I don’t think it’s fair,” Richardson said. “But I want to make an apology if I offended anyone because that’s not me.”
Rocker Scale: 5. Richardson seemed more bothered that he was caught than the slur.
Joey Porter, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker, 2006
Slur: Upset at what Porter thought was a cheap shot by Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. against a Steelers teammate, the linebacker said: “He’s a fag. He tried to dap me up before the game. He’s soft though. I don’t pay attention to him. … [the hit on the teammate] was late. That’s what fags do. He’s soft. He wanna be tough but he’s really soft. He tried to give me a handshake before the game. He’s not my friend, he don’t know me. What you trying to shake my hand for? He talk too much and he hadn’t done nothing. He threw a cheap shot. He’s weak. He’s for real weak. He’s soft. He might want to play receiver because he don’t want to play tight end. He’s not gonna block nobody.”
Apology: ”I apologize to anybody I offended on it. I didn’t mean to offend nobody but Kellen Winslow. Pretty much, that’s it about that.” In trying to justify his use of language, Porter said it was a common word in his upbringing. “I guess how we used that word freely, me growing up using it, I didn’t think nothing of it like that,” Porter said.
Rocker Scale: 5. A classic in the non-apology apology genre.
Matt Millen, Detroit Lions president, 2003
Slur: Called Kansas City Chiefs receiver Johnnie Morton a “faggot” after a game. “You faggot! Yeah, you heard me. You faggot!” Millen yelled at Morton.
Apology: ”I apologize if I offended anyone.”
Rocker Scale: 5. At the time, Millen was an NFL executive and should have known better. Then again, he may have been the worst NFL executive in history, as Lions fans would attest, so maybe he didn’t know better. Amazingly, the NFL did not punish Millen and he was not contrite.
Julian Tavarez, Chicago Cubs, 2003
Slur: ”Why should I care about the fans?” Tavarez said about San Francisco Giants fans after a game. “They’re a bunch of assholes and faggots here.”
Apology: ”I want to apologize to the city of San Francisco and say how sorry I am for what I said. I’m a very emotional man and I don’t always mean what I say. Sometimes my emotions get the best of me. I am very sorry, very sorry.”
Rocker Scale: 1. Tavarez should not have blamed his emotions, but he seemed contrite.
Garrison Hearst, San Francisco 49ers running back, 2002
Slur: ”Aww, hell no! I don’t want any faggots on my team. I know this might not be what people want to hear, but that’s a punk. I don’t want any faggots in this locker room.”
Apology: ”First of all, I want to apologize for the comments that I made, and to the gay community. I didn’t realize it would be so harmful. I want to direct it to my teammates for causing a disturbance among the team before this game. Being an African-American, I know that discrimination is wrong and I was wrong for saying what I said about anybody–any race, any religion. I want to apologize to the San Francisco 49ers organization, the City of San Francisco for the comments that I made, and to my teammates for bringing this distraction upon us. I hope that everyone can accept my apology. Thank you.”
Rocker Scale: 1.
John Rocker, Atlanta Braves 1999
Slur: In a Sports Illustrated story, the Braves reliever said: ‘‘Imagine having to take the 7 train to (Shea Stadium in New York) looking like you’re (in) Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing.”
Apology: None for two months. Then he issued this statement: “I made several comments of which I am ashamed. In reading the article, I realized that in three major areas, I have hurt people. It was unintentional, but nevertheless, there was damage done.”. Rocker served a short suspension from baseball in 2000 for his remarks. Rocker again made homophobic remarks to patrons at a Dallas restaurant in 2002. In 2006 he defended Ozzie Guillen for using a gay slur. In a 2012 interview with Politico, Rocker seemed to have no problem with gay marriage. A lot has changed in 14 years.
Rocker Scale: 5. He waited to apologize and then never mentioned gay people in his apology.