The power of words

In the ad, teenage basketball players are trash-talking to the camera. One boy rejects a shot and says, “Welcome to my block party!” After a wicked fake and jump shot, a girl says, “The only triple-doubles you get… come with fries.”

But when another teen says, “That move was just gay,” Grant Hill and Jared Dudley of the Phoenix Suns call him out.

Hill says, “Using gay to mean dumb or stupid… not cool.” Dudley says, “Not in my house, not anywhere. It’s offensive to gay people.” “And you’re better than that,” Hill adds.

The public service announcement, developed by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network(GLSEN) in partnership with Ad Council and the NBA, has been airing during the NBA Conference Finals, and it comes not a moment too soon.

Last weekend, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah used a gay slur against a fan in a moment of frustration. He’s since apologized, but he’ll likely be fined by the league. Just last month, Lakers star Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for using the same gay slur against a referee, and Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell was suspended for making aggressive, homophobic statements and gestures to fans in San Francisco.

The concept of sportsmanship comes from the recognition that sports can uplift us and bring us together. But homophobia, long a part of athletic culture, only divides us. In an interview on NPR over the weekend, Hill explained, “It’s about words. You know, the most important thing is these words have meaning. And gay is not a bad word, but if you use it, you know, in a way that promotes negativity, then it is.”

We have a long way to go (in GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey, nine in ten LGBT teens reported being verbally harassed in the last year), but our culture is changing. Just last week Phoenix Suns CEO Rick Welts announced that he was gay, musician and former Villanova basketball player Will Sheridan came out, and so did ESPN sports radio host Jared Max.

The reactions to these revelations? Welts, Sheridan, and Max all report receiving many, many expressions of love and support.

Watch the ad:

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