I’ve often asked myself, when athletes have come under fire for politically insensitive language or comments, “did we really need his/her opinion in the first place?” I really don’t care whether an athlete is a liberal or a conservative, I care only whether they are a violent racist, homophobe, or any other form of unevolved bigot. They aren’t there to be our moral compass; they are where they are because they are great at a sport. Those who do look at athletes as anything more than well-paid entertainers are looking in the wrong place. That said, there are examples time and time again of athletes running their mouths on twitter accounts and getting in serious trouble for it. At the same time, we should be proud of athletes who do go the extra mile, to be positive role models for younger children, but we should not be surprised when they aren’t.
Unfortunately, no matter how great someone is at sports, they are still human and may still lash out and rant if given the opportunity during a period of high, raw emotion. Sadly, once the words have been spoken or the twitter feed has been updated, those words will forever be available to any who document or witness what was said. In a pretty benign but recent case, Richard Sherman, the best corner in the NFL, blasted receiver Marcus Crabtree in an incident with which the media would come to have a field day. They all but ignored the “Helluva game” and handshake that Sherman tried to extend to Crabtree, and when they did address it, there was speculation that the handshake attempt was in jest. This is just another example of the media getting all worked up and excited over essentially nothing.
This article will look at some of the most offensive actions and comments by athletes. Though I recently mentioned Richard Sherman, he is a kitten compared to the individuals on this list, from an offensiveness standpoint. They are from a number of different sports and present an interesting array of prejudicial views and actions. Some are a little bit funny, but others are just ignorant, expressing unnecessary and misplaced hatred.
Typically, most of these athletes act like Kenny Powers, from the hit TV show Eastbound and Down. While that’s an exaggerated, fictional character, (who actually was inspired by our athlete who’s number one of this list) these athletes are not cartoons and should not have spouted off at the mouth.
Here are the top 10 most offensive actions and comments by athletes. Obviously this is a somewhat subjective list, so please contribute your own offensive athletes in the comments section. Additionally, critique the order in which this list takes place, as obviously some are more offended by some things more than others. To add a slight financial edge to this topic, I will obviously include fines and money lost due to suspension where applicable. Honorable mentions go to Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah, who just missed the list. Kobe used a homophobic slur on a ref and Noah used one on a fan back in 2011 and they were fined $100,000 and $50,000 respectively.
10. Chris Culliver, Homophobic Comments
“I don’t do the gay guys, man. I don’t do that. Ain’t got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff.”
This was a direct quote from 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver last year prior to the Super Bowl. Obviously, what Culliver said here was wrong and his view of gay men is skewed to the point of being problematic. “Can’t be with all that sweet stuff” is an interesting phrase. If you’ve seen Michael Sam play, there’s nothing sweet about the guy and I doubt he will bring any “sweet” stuff to the NFL. Unless you find tackling and aggressive pass rushing sweet, in which case, yes, he’s a sweetheart.
This is also the first of two 49ers players to make this list. It is interesting to note that both NFL players on this list play/played for San Francisco and are on this list for homophobic statements. It seems they both need a quick lesson in demographics. Culliver was not formally punished for his statements, but did apologize, and did a complete 180, saying he would welcome a homosexual teammate. We must give him credit, as he’s volunteered at a gay support center and has tried to make amends.
9. 2008 Spanish Men’s Basketball Team, Inconsiderate Team Photo
What the hell did they think would happen?! Welcome to face-palm central, folks. Prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the Spanish Men’s basketball team released a picture of their entire roster posing, pulling back the skin around their eyes. Part of me laughed when I saw this, purely because my first thought was “who thought this was a good idea?” I’m not Asian, but it doesn’t take someone of Asian ancestry to know that this gesture is offensive! Again, let me repeat, this is an Olympic team representing an industrialized European nation, considered by many to be a beautiful country with a vibrant culture, how did this happen? What Spanish public relations rep thought this would go over well? It’s essentially a team of sports ambassadors saying “Ha Ha, people in your country look different than us!”
8. Julian Tavarez, Geographical Ignorance
This one is pretty straightforward and again we see San Francisco come into the mix. While playing for the Chicago Cubs, pitcher Julian Tavarez was booed while playing in San Francisco. You’d think a professional athlete would be used to boo’s and verbal abuse but apparently not. When asked for a statement on being booed at the game, he responded with “Why should I care about the fans? They’re nothing but a bunch of a**holes and fa****s here.” It’s not nice to call people a**holes but that wasn’t the word that people got upset about.
Another homophobic slur used by an athlete in a city with a large homosexual population. There has to be a more creative way to get back at fans for booing than making fun of their sexual preference. Will we ever see a pro athlete say of booing fans, “to hell with them, I make their yearly salary in a week?” That’s pretty accurate and doesn’t attack people based on race, creed or sexual preference, just financial status. Last time I checked, making fun of the poor and middle classes is still socially acceptable. Well it’s not, but still better than an attack on sexual preference. Tavarez later apologized for his statements, but was not formally punished.
7. Matt Mitrione, Transphobic Comments
Last year, Matt Mitrione was in an interview session and he was asked for his opinion on Fallon Fox, a mixed martial artist who is transgender. His reaction sparked controversy in the MMA world. He was quoted as calling the male to female transgender Fox a “lying, sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak”, and was also criticized for using all male pronouns when referring to her. While I don’t expect a massive amount of compassion and understanding from a man who is trained to mercilessly wail on people for a living, it only takes a shred of common sense to know that such words are unwelcome among most of society. Mitrione received a suspension for his comments. Then again, it is the UFC and they need guys to fight rather than sit at home, so Mitrione’s contract was reinstated two weeks later.
6. Raffi Torres and Tyler Bozak, Tasteless Halloween Costumes
If there is one thing I learned as rule number one when dressing up on Halloween, is that black-face is never alright and there is no way to do it tastefully or ironically. Apparently these lads did not receive the same memo that I did because they both did it, just a year apart. In 2011, Raffi Torres and his wife both dressed up in black-face as Jay-Z and Beyonce and went to a Halloween party. As for Tyler Bozak, on Halloween 2012 he tweeted a picture of himself dressed up in black-face impersonating Michael Jackson, and commented on the picture:
Joke is on him though, Michael Jackson was white! Wait…wasn’t he? Just kidding. Beyond a little bit of public scrutiny, name calling and finger pointing, neither player was formally punished for these pictures. This event brings about an interesting debate, on which I will not take a side. Neither of these players intended their costumes to be offensive, but rather wanted to pay tribute to their favorite musicians (Jay-Z and MJ). When evaluating questionable actions on the part of athletes, such as this situation, what’s more important, the intentions of the offending party or the interpretation of the act by the offended party? Discuss.
5. Nik Lewis, Making a Joke a Little too Soon…
This one brings a debate to mind: at what point is it alright to joke about tragedy? Is there actually a timeline that determines when an unfortunate event can be lampooned? Comedian Gilbert Gottfried waited just three weeks before he made a 9/11 joke, and did so at the New York Friars Club Roast of Hugh Hefner. South Park on the other hand, made an episode about AIDS in which they proposed that 22.5 years was enough time before something tragic becomes funny. Either way, Nik Lewis made a comment about the O.J. Simpson case in the late 2000’s that many thought crossed a line.
After rumors that Juice was going to sell the knife he had used in the murders swept the internet, Lewis, who was playing in the CFL for the Stampeders at the time tweeted:
I think the mitigating circumstance in this case was the hashtag “#MaybeALittleToFar”, because he clearly knew he was making an edgy joke. Nonetheless, perhaps, like many thought, it was an off-color comment that should not have been made. Maybe tasteless jokes are not the domain of pro athletes and just need to be left to the insult comics. Lewis was fined an undisclosed amount by the CFL for his tweet.
4. Michel Morganella, Hot Headed Tweet
After the Swiss soccer team lost to South Korea back in 2012 at the London Olympics, Swiss defender Michel Morganella posted a very emotional tweet in which he told all of South Korea to “go burn” and called them “a bunch of Mongoloids”. He was sent home, as both the Olympic committee and Swiss officials believed he had neglected to show the respect that was required of an Olympian. I won’t defend what the guy said, as it was horrible, but I will argue that maybe he isn’t the scum of the Earth. Instead he’s probably just a hothead who should have left his twitter account alone after a rough day on the field. Let’s be honest, what athlete can actually say they’ve never wished misfortune on an opponent after an emotional loss.
3. Garrison Hearst, Extreme Homophobic Comments
This one is just plain rude. After retired NFL player Esera Tuaolo revealed that he was gay, San Francisco 49ers’ running back commented to interviewers: “Aww, hell no! I don’t want any fa****s on my team. I know this might not be what people want to hear, but that’s a punk. I don’t want any fa****s in this locker room.” I’m not sure what he meant by “that’s a punk”, but the rest of his tirade is pretty clear and I’m not here to criticize grammar or syntax. Again, we see a player who is paid to play for a football franchise situated in a city with a large gay population making homophobic comments. While Chris Culliver just seemed like a guy with some misguided and ignorant views, Hearst’s reaction is more aggressive and one can definitely sense a certain level of hate in his brief rant.
In his interview during the scouting combine earlier this week, Michael Sam implied that if he encountered any homophobia in the NFL he would try to talk it out with the offending party. I, for one, would rather just hear about him mangling whoever decided to gay-bash and leave the guy spitting chicklets for a week, but that might just be me. Again, while many got upset, and he eventually apologized, Hearst was not punished via fine or suspension.
2. Tim Hardaway, Foolish Homophobic Comments
Well, there’s no way to misinterpret this one, it doesn’t get much more straightforward than Tim Hardaway’s statements back in 2007. Former NBA player John Amaechi had just come out and when asked about the event in an interview, Tim Hardaway had this gem lined up: “Well, you know I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.” See? Like I said, straightforward. Tim Hardaway hates gays, doesn’t want to be around gays, and doesn’t think that the world or the United States should be tolerant of gays. This was back in 2007. He was no longer in the NBA at this point, but was still active in the community. He was not allowed to take part in All-Star weekend festivities that year and his employer at the time, Trinity Sports, removed him from his position in their organization.
He has since stated that he regrets the actions and proved it, by being the first to sign the Florida Gay Marriage Petition. At least it demonstrates to us that there is room to grow, and some athletes are able to do that.
1. John Rocker, General Insanity/Offending a Variety of People
This has to be number one for several reasons. First off, John Rocker’s rant back in 2000 was just the last in a career of offensive and off color statements. Secondly, it is offensive to multiple different groups. The third reason is that it essentially cost the guy his career. Fourthly, he inspired the Kenny Powers character and even kind of looks like him at times, which is actually kind of awesome. Finally, I find it hilarious that his rant was meant to answer a completely benign, harmless question. He was asked if he would ever consider playing baseball in New York. His response: “Imagine having to take the 7-train to (Shea Stadium) looking like you’re riding through Beirut, next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing.” He continued to exclaim: “The biggest thing I don’t like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?”
Let’s take a quick tally: he first attacks the city of New York, arguing it looks like Beirut, Lebanon. This could be offensive to both New Yorkers and Beirut residents, but I’m not sure how many people in Lebanon follow the MLB. Next he takes aim at the goth/punk/emo/whatever subculture, but who cares about that one. Just kidding, that’s not cool. Next, of course, what kind of an offensive athlete comment would this be without a quick session of hating on homosexuals, including an AIDS comment? Did Atlanta not have any AIDS in 2000?
Then he moves on to the fact that New York is completely overrun with ex-convicts. Finally, the young, single mothers, how dare they bring their progeny on public transportation? Seriously John, did you have to pick on young mothers too? Finally, in a brilliant tirade, he insults several ethnic groups in the United States, arguing that they should not be there. So he almost covered it all. Socially disadvantaged individuals, homosexuals, other ethnicities, but he did not complete the ultimate bigoted statement, as there was no mention of religion. What, John, nothing to say about the Jewish or Muslim populations of New York? Rocker was ultimately suspended for 28 (reduced to 14) games for the start of the 2000 season. His comments were only one incident in a career of socially offensive behavior. He had to attend sensitivity training, but mocked the entire experience along with Bud Selig.