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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Kobe Bryant's $100,000 fine: Is Hollywood tougher than the NBA about gay bashing?

April 14, 2011 | 11:46 am

Kobe_bryant Kobe Bryant has been in full-on damage control the last 24 hours, trying to smooth the waters after bellowing a nasty anti-gay slur at an NBA referee when he was hit with a technical foul during the Lakers game Tuesday night against the San Antonio Spurs. (We can't use the term in a family blog, but my colleague Bill Plaschke described it as the gay community's version of the F-word.) Ever since word circulated about Bryant's explosive remark, he's been doing the familiar apology kabuki dance -- issuing a carefully worded statement, then doing an interview on ESPN radio and, finally, making a more direct apology to Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-oriented civil rights organization.

But it took a long time for an actual apology to surface. Bryant's initial statement was pretty pathetic, with him using the most tired of tired excuses -- "my actions were out of frustration" -- and arguing that "what I said last night should not be taken literally," which sounded a lot like Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl's staff saying that his preposterous claim that 90% of Planned Parenthood's resources were used to facilitate abortions was "not meant to be taken as a factual statement."

NBA Commissioner David Stern has fined Bryant $100,000 and, no pun intended, sternly admonished him for his distasteful behavior. But is that just a slap on the wrist? After all, Bryant makes more than $300,000 in every regular season game. He isn't even being suspended for one game of the playoffs.

In Hollywood, you don't get off so easy. Actor Isaiah Washington was fired from "Grey's Anatomy" in 2007 for using a similar anti-gay slur on the set of the show, and then making the mistake of using the slur again in a backstage interview at the Golden Globes. Washington made the same sort of public apology, but he was canned anyway. And we all know what happened to Mel Gibson after he uttered a similarly offensive series of slurs against African Americans and women during a heated argument with his former lover. His talent agency dumped him and he's been even more of a pariah in Hollyood polite society than he was after making anti-Semitic remarks several years earlier.

Gibson can still work -- he has a new film due out next month. But he's a long way from achieving any kind of forgiveness. He can't even do publicity for his upcoming movie, knowing that even the most hapless TV celebrity talk-show host will feel obligated to ask him about his transgressions. This is hardly the fate that awaits Kobe. He will get to bask in the spotlight of the NBA playoffs, and if he leads the Lakers to another championship, all will be forgiven. Basketball fans will opt for winning over chivalry every time.

I'm not saying that means Hollywood has a more rigorous moral code than professional sports, since in the movie business you can still get away with murder, just as long as long as you don't publicly make a spectacle of yourself. But what Kobe did was very much a public spectacle, and a public disgrace. His apology, such as it was, was totally an example of cynical damage control. He's the same Kobe he always was -- icy cold and almost impossible to adore. If you're looking for a role model in the world of professional sports, you shouldn't bother to look in Kobe's direction.

-- Patrick Goldstein 

Photo: Kobe Bryant biting his jersey during the game this week against the Sacramento Kings.

Credit: Cary Edmondson/US Presswire