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The NBA Should Have Suspended Rajon Rondo Five Games for Hateful Comments

The NBA suspended Rajon Rondo one game for repeatedly calling referee Bill Kennedy a homophobic slur. This is not a penalty commensurate with the offense. Not in late 2015. And certainly not in the face of the complete lack of contrition Rondo has shown as his bigotry airs for all to see.

A statement must be made that sentiments like Rondo’s have no place in basketball. It’s an easy statement to make, too, because decent people everywhere understand that they have no place in society as a whole.

The Sacramento Kings point guard was given two technical fouls by Kennedy during a Dec. 3 game in Mexico City. A report yesterday by Yahoo! states Rondo called the referee a gay slur not once, but twice.

Rondo addressed his suspension with two tweets on Monday night. Take a close look and see if you can find an apology among the excuses for his actions.

This is not an acceptable response. And it’s insulting to fans’ intelligence. Rondo chose his hateful words intentionally. They were designed to offend and disrespect in the most hurtful way possible. That is why he chose them.

Whether Rondo knew about Kennedy’s sexual orientation or not is immaterial. What he said is reprehensible in either case. It’s tough to believe he was ignorant of Kennedy’s sexuality if you buy Tim Donaghy’s assertion that Doc Rivers made a similar inflammatory comment to the referee while he was head coach of the Boston Celtics (on which Rondo was the point guard).

More than that, it’s surprising that Rondo could think these statements would suffice. Nearly five years ago Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for directing a similar slur at a referee. In the time that’s passed since then, the NBA — and the world — has changed greatly. Bryant’s outburst was and still is ugly. Rondo doing the same thing, though, in this post-Jason Collins world, makes him look like a Neanderthal.

Despite living in a constantly outraged climate, I’m usually reluctant to demand a pound of flesh from those who make mistakes. But Rondo’s actions — from the offending comments themselves to his weak attempt to apologizing — should draw a significant suspension from the NBA.

One game is far too light. Five games would be a more reasonable penalty. It would also send a powerful message that the league will not stand pat on its impressive recent anti-discrimination history.

Of the four major American sports, basketball has been the leader in championing inclusiveness. It’s the place where the first openly gay player played. It’s the league at the forefront of the “You Can Play” videos. It’s far and away the most forward-thinking. That starts at the top with commissioner Adam Silver who is currently facing his first real public relations debacle.

This is not about politics. It’s about basic human decency. There’s no defense for what Rondo did, no matter how prevalant such language is on the court. Judging by comments made by San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, hateful words like these are sadly not an aberration.

“Why would I be surprised? You see it all the time. It’s unfortunate, it’s disgusting, because Billy is a great guy, and has been a class act on and off the court. As far as anybody’s sexual orientation, it’s nobody’s business. It just shows ignorance to act in a derogatory way toward anybody in the LGBT community. It doesn’t make sense. But surprised, of course not. He showed a lot of courage.”

If Rondo’s outburst was the norm and not the exception, that’s even more reason for the NBA to make an example out of him. Singling out one player when many are doing it is not necessarily fair. But this is an important enough issue — and the upside of eradicating this element from the game should be clearly evident — that perhaps an unprecedented and heavy-handed punishment serves the greater good.

Don’t expect an outpouring of tears for Rondo if that’s what happens.

Now, the logistics of a prolonged suspension could be tricky. Bill Simmons pointed out that this is the first time the NBA has suspended a player for language. Imposing double jeopardy may run afoul of the collective bargaining agreement. But that shouldn’t stop the powers that be from pushing for a meaningful penalty. If Rondo, the player’s association or Sacramento Kings want to oppose the suspension, force them to make such a stand in public. It will be an unpopular stand to take — and give them all pause before taking it.

Call it an overreaction all you like. Remember that Rondo is the one that turned an official’s call in a basketball game into an opportunity to devalue another human being’s existence. He did this in early December while playing for a team that was 7-13 at the time. He’s the one who escalated things to an unnecessary level.

Perhaps he’ll be a casualty in the war of words he took nuclear. And he’ll have no one to blame but himself.

Image via USA Today Sports