Kobe Bryant gave himself more worries than any referee could after cameras caught him flinging a homophobic slur at official Bennie Adams following a technical foul Tuesday in the Lakers’ win over San Antonio.
The slur, issued during a tantrum from the bench after Adams called Bryant for his 15th tech of the season, triggered a downpour of criticism on Wednesday from two of the nation’s most powerful gay and lesbian rights groups, the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
“What a disgrace for Kobe Bryant to use such horribly offensive and distasteful language, especially when millions of people are watching,” a representative for the Human Rights Campaign told TMZ.com. “Such language not only offends millions of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered) people around the world, but also perpetuates a culture of discrimination and hate.”
Jarrett Barrios, the president of the anti-defamation group, told ESPNLosAngeles.com that “Professional sports players need to set a better example for young people who use words like this on the playground and in our schools. The L.A. Lakers have a responsibility to educate their fans about why this word is unacceptable.”
The NBA was reviewing the tape on Wednesday for possible disciplinary action.
In a team-issued statement, Bryant admitted to using the word but fell short of an apology by passing it off as a heat-of-the-moment tantrum.
“What I said last night should not be taken literally,” he said. “The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings toward the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.”
The five-time NBA champion is no stranger to adverse publicity. A criminal case for his alleged rape of a 20-year-old hotel clerk in 2003 was dropped 14 months later when the woman withdrew her testimony and pursued a civil suit. That ended with Bryant paying an undisclosed settlement.
He also had a 2009 run-in with a housekeeper who claimed the Bryants hired her with medical benefits, only to find she was left uncovered when she became ill.