Gay Slurs are at the Heart of the Debate on Larry Johnson
Chief fans dislike of Larry Johnson is becoming better and better documented with each passing moment. As of the writing of this article, over 15,000 had signed a petition requesting that Johnson never be given a chance to break Priest Holmes all-time Chiefs rushing record. The fact that this petition has enjoyed so much coverage – even national media coverage – is mind boggling.
However, what is even more interesting is the fact that the indictment on Johnson, in the media and in water cooler discussions, centers around gay slurs rather than Johnson's insulting of his head coach or even blasting of fans via twitter responses. Of course, there are other reasons why fans don't like Johnson, dating back to his handling of Dick Vermeil's infamous "Time to take of the diapers" quote, as well as a hold out after the 2007 and four run-ins with the law involving violence towards women.
Why then are the gay slurs so important?
It won't be popular to say it, but in world where racism and prejudice have gone primarily underground, there isn't a true consensus about whether or not his slurs constitute something anyone should be concerned about. Let's face it, currently there are only four states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont) which permit gay marriage and only New York and Washington D.C. recognize gay marriages from foreign countries or other states (a third Rhode Island is somewhat unsure on the matter). As recently as Tuesday, a vote in favor of gay marriage was defeated by a margin of 53% to 47%. While a 6% swing is fairly decisive in the political world, in reality, this is a rather slim margin. Also, when you consider the demographics of those who would vote, it calls in to question of what the opinion of the populous as whole is in actuality. Either way, to some extent, it is fair to say that a disapproval of gay marriage is a disapproval of gays and gay lifestyle (although I know there are some who would argue this point). If you don't approve of gays then what is wrong with using disparaging terms towards them?
Recently, battles over gay marriage have been hotly contested and the margins of victory are usually quite slim. In California, after the State Supreme Court overturned proposition 22 (passed 61% to 38% in 2000) making gay marriage legal, anti-gay marriage activist hysterically acted and amended the state constitution by passing proposition 8. Although the measure passed it was with only a 52% to 48% vote. It is not a coincidence that the groups supporting the overturn of gay marriage in California were primarily religious groups for whom the gay lifestyle constitutes an "abomination". While the change in votes from 2000 to 2008 shows that gays have managed to make inroads in the media, popular culture and gained acceptance (particularly on the coasts), they are still a long way from being accepted as "equals" by much of the straight community. To be blunt, there is still a lot of homophobia in America.
If this is the case, then why don't we hear more from people at the water cooler and around the horn condemning the gay lifestyle? The reason is that we have become a society so litigious that the fear of legal retribution has forced individuals to give at least lip service to so-called politically correct stances. While such political correctness is a step in the right direction in some ways, is counter-productive in others. It is counterproductive to the extent that it precludes any real discussion about the issues at hand and actually encourages somewhat passive-aggressive tactics on the part of those who secretly dislike, don't understand or even fear gays.
Such passive-aggressiveness may be found in a failure to express outrage over the statements made by Larry Johnson towards gays. In case you missed it, Johnson's twitter statement was: "think bout a clever diss then that wit ur faggot pic. Christopher street boy. Is what us east coast cats call u." (A "Christopher Street Boy" is a pejorative term used to describe gays who hang out in a particular part of New York). What is so offensive about Larry Johnson's statements is the fact that the use of the words is meant to imply that the individual being attacked is gay and that this somehow makes him less of a human being. To be clear, the problem isn't a "slip up" of using a hateful word, but an attitude about gays that is clearly communicated. The fact that Johnson proceeded to then use a second different slur further hits the point home. Johnson was looking to compare the individual to what he felt was the lowest thing that is available, in his mind: gays. It isn't as if Johnson simply slipped and out came the word "faggot". No, there is an intent and an attitude that is clear.
Now, some have argued that Johnson's actions were "in the heat of the moment". Let's be clear that the twitter statement was not spoken but was typed. He had time to type the insult, review it and then press send. The individual at whom the comment was directed responded and Johnson had time to reflect, yet it was not until 24 hours later, when everything blew up that Johnson made a statement of apology. Given these facts, it doesn't appear that Johnson "slipped his tongue". He meant what he said and said what he meant. His apology appears to be nothing more than a way to make reparations so he may resume his career. Frankly, at this point in his career Johnson has apologized so many times it has lost all meaning.
In the big picture, the public's lukewarm reaction to some of Johnson's comments can be attributed to nothing less than their split view on the issue. Had Johnson used the N-word, or any other word associated with an ethnic group, the outrage would have been greater because the consensus on these matters is clearer cut in society today then in the not-so-distant past. Since the group he happened to disparage is unpopular with some segments of society, the matter is a big deal to some and not to others, hence, the big discussion.
Personally, what I find most disappointing is the number of people who are attempting to excuse Johnson's behavior, in general. Here is a man who has been gifted with a life of which most of us can only dream. Yes, he worked hard, but I can guarantee you that if hard work were the only thing at issue there would be a lot more millionaire professional football players in this world. No, Johnson was given immense gifts. Yet, time and time again, Johnson has felt entitled enough to make others the target of his anger, to act and behave in a way that is not that of good role model and to be childish. He verbally attacked his head coach, he attacked fans and attacked the gay community. Somehow, Johnson doesn't seem to appreciate the privilege it is to get paid to play professional football. Instead, he sees it necessary to attack the very fans who are indirectly responsible for giving him his success and providing him with a life of luxury. He seems to feel that he is entitled to special treatment. Entitled to batter women and have the charges disappear, entitled to say whatever he feels entitled to be – frankly – a jerk.
America is a land of free speech, and Johnson is entitled to say whatever he wants. However, actions have consequences. The Chiefs are now free to act in the best interest of their business. My hope is that the Chiefs will exercise their freedom and decide never to allow Johnson to play as a Chief again.