NBA locker rooms are melting pots of diverse young men from disparate backgrounds, so it should come as no surprise when race occasionally becomes a topic of league-wide conversation.
Such was the case last week when Los Angeles Clippers forward Matt Barnes posted a profane message online after being ejected from a game for defending his teammates in a scuffle.
“I love my teammates like family, but I’m DONE standing up for these n*gg*s!” Barnes wrote before the game had finished. Only Barnes used the actual N-word. Barnes was quickly hit with a $25,00 fine from the NBA — and a barrage of nationwide criticism.
To his credit, Barnes admitted he had made a mistake, saying: “My poor choice of words [and] timing do not reflect who or what I am about … I [accept] full responsibility for all my inappropriate action last night [and] I am truly sorry!”
If he’d left it at that, the entire episode would likely have been seen as an honest flub and quickly forgotten. But Barnes stepped in it again when he tried to defend his use of a slur based on how it’s spelled.
“I think the way it’s said makes people cringe,” Barnes said. “I think if you put an –er at the end that makes people cringe, but if there’s an –a at the end that’s like people saying, ‘bro.’ That’s just how we address people now.”
Barnes’ distinction is ridiculous, and was promptly blasted by a chorus of critics from various races. But Barnes was also defended by NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley and black columnist and TV personality Michael Wilbon — who insisted that whites shouldn’t judge usage of the term among black people.
“It is these type of comments that make us our own worst enemy at times,” said Robert Littal of BlackSportsOnline.com. “You think the people who used that word for centuries to disrespect black people cared about the enunciation? ... Until we stop treating each other like second class citizens, how are we going to expect anyone else to do it?”
Barnes and the general public may never agree on whether the N-word is offensive, since different people will always find different things offensive. But everyone, no matter their background, should be willing to acknowledge that the term is in poor taste — and should always be avoided. It isn’t asking too much to expect everyone to abstain from tasteless behavior, no matter their race.