My cynicism has been rising steadily in the wake of the Rajon Rondo incident, which has been front-page news two days in a row in the home-town newspaper of the Sacramento Kings. I’m sure you’ve been reading the expressions of outrage and condemnation in the Sacramento Bee and the apologies pouring forth from the team president, general manager and coach.
Rondo himself, who tried to get away with a non-apology apology via Twitter, has belatedly issued an enhanced apology, which was the top story today in the Bee’s sports section. Rondo tells us he is speaking “from the bottom of my heart” when he says he is “truly sorry” for hurling anti-gay slurs at a somewhat closeted gay referee, Bill Kennedy, during a Dec. 3 game in Mexico City against the Boston Celtics.
Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Vlade Divac both condemned Rondo’s language in the Dec. 3 game, an event intended to promote the NBA game internationally.
“Rajon’s comment is not reflective of the culture of the Sacramento Kings organization or the world we want to live in,” Ranadive said in a statement published Monday in the Bee. “He’s apologized, and has been suspended by the NBA. On behalf of the team, I apologize to Bill Kennedy for any harm this may have caused.”
Why do I feel a tad cynical despite all the apologies and media outrage? Consider this: the confrontation between Rondo and Kennedy occurred Dec. 3. The public blow-up didn’t come until 10 days later.
Yahoo Sports started things rolling Sunday evening by publishing a statement from Kennedy in which the longtime ref revealed that he is gay. Yahoo also published explicit details from an NBA investigation, including the curses and anti-gay slurs an enraged Rondo had hurled at Kennedy. Yahoo said it received the investigation details from National Basketball Referees Association general counsel Lee Seham.
Last Friday, the NBA said nothing about Rondo’s gay-bashing when it announced that he was being suspended for one game. The NBA statement merely said Rondo had directed a derogatory and offensive term towards a game official and not left the court in a timely manner upon his ejection from the game.
The Bee’s day-after story said even less, noting that Rondo had been ejected from the game after getting two technical fouls from Kennedy and had to be kept away from the referee by DeMarcus Cousins.
According to Yahoo Sports, Kennedy and fellow referee Ben Taylor described Rondo’s post-ejection diatribe as including the statements: “You’re a mother——- faggot. … You’re a f—— faggot, Billy.” Seham reported that a third official, Bennie Adams, outside of hearing distance, “affirmed that Rondo aggressively pursued referee Bill Kennedy and had to be restrained by teammates and escorted off the floor by Sacramento team security.”
As far as I can tell, there was no public comment about the gay slurs from Dec. 3 until last Sunday evening. Why the silence? Are we to believe the players on the court heard nothing? Was the coach unaware of what had been said? What were Ranadive and Divac told about the incident? Did any reporter bother to ask the refs or anybody else what had happened? The staff-written stories carried by the Bee and the Boston Globe both had Mexico City datelines, the usual indicator that the papers’ reporters were present.
To my way of thinking, anti-gay sentiment is so prevalent in macho pro sports that no one close to the sports world gives it much thought until something happens to make it a public embarrassment.
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, whose team played Utah Monday night in a game Kennedy worked as a ref, said he wasn’t surprised by the Rondo incident.
“Why would I be surprised? You see it all the time,” Popovich said. “It’s unfortunate. It’s disgusting. Bill is a great guy. He’s been a class act, on and off the court.”
Meanwhile, one wonders where Rondo’s teammates and other NBA players stand. They’ve been rather silent.