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  • Writer's pictureEducating Gender

No Homo: Stop Fining, Stop Punishing, and Start Teaching


Recently, the NBA basketball player Cam Thomas, a second year player with the Brooklyn Nets, was fined $40,000 for using the expression “No Homo” in an interview on live television. The comment from Thomas was part of an interchange that took place with a teammate, Spencer Dinwiddie, who was asked in a previous interview about the trade that had brought him and Thomas to the Nets from Dallas for the star, Kyrie Irving. Dinwiddie remarked that he didn’t know if they brought the best players to the Nets but definitely the “best looking players.” Thomas referenced this comment in his television interview, with Dinwiddie by his side, after a game and then used the term “No Homo” to end the interview.

This is not the first time that a professional athlete, musician, or public figure has used this expression either in an interview, on social media, or in their work. It’s also not the first time that someone has felt financial repercussions for the comment. A number of athletes have been fined according to their league’s policies regarding the use of offensive and derogatory language. Basketball stars, Roy Hibbert, Kobe Bryant, Joakim Noah, and Nikola Jokic were also punished for using anti-gay slurs during games.

And, as Dan Feldman aptly stated in his article reporting on Jokic’s fine, “however intended, [his slur] reinforces the harmful idea that there’s something wrong with being gay, that a straight person must strain himself to ensure he’s never mistaken for gay. It’s disgusting, and the NBA has correctly determined there’s no place for it in the workplace.”

The term “No Homo'' is, without question, homophobic and a regularly heard slur used to denigrate individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community. The expression is dangerous and dehumanizing. But Cam Thomas should not have been fined for using it. Instead, we missed an incredible opportunity to call out and address a much larger issue in our culture, particularly regarding the development of young men, when we relegate and dismiss these moments as some brain cramp of insensitivity. Instead of addressing the cold, we addressed the cough and in so doing, carelessly allowed for the cycle of misogyny and homophobia to continue to be an essential component of becoming a man in today’s America.

“No homo” is a way for young men to say I am not a homosexual, I am straight and hetero even though I am in the midst of some circumstance or moment which might define me as otherwise. The action taken might be a deep hug with another guy, the verbal expression of love or emotional connection to a male friend, even the acknowledgement that another young man dresses well or is good looking, as with the case of Dinwiddie. Simply put, it is a defensive shield which we require amongst young men to shore up fragile, narrow and destructive versions of masculinity they are developing from early on.

...we missed an incredible opportunity to call out and address a much larger issue in our culture, particularly regarding the development of young men, when we relegate and dismiss these moments as some brain cramp of insensitivity.

Dr. Niobe Way at New York University has done 30 years of extensive research with boys as they move through the developmental trajectories of early to mid to late adolescence where she has tracked boys developing this language as a way to de-relationalize themselves as required by distorted interpretations of American manhood.

Schools are incubators, training grounds, and reinforcers of this narrow masculine construct. As I have written about previously, boys create rigid social structures (which we allow and condone) which place boys and young men in unwinnable situations. Social exclusion and verbal harassment, physical harm, bullying and abuse await young men who do not toe the line of the man code in our culture. To understand why boys struggle in school, both socially and academically is to understand this dynamic. “Schools are the practice facilities and experimental playgrounds for patriarchal beliefs and misogyny.”

Part of the flawed, dysfunctional cultural coding built into these developmental trajectories, “no homo” is relatable to “that’s what girls do” or “you’re a little bitch if you say or do things like that.” These terms normalize the idea that anything held within the frameworks of the feminine have no place in the male psyche and will lead to your exclusion from the world of bro-ness if you speak or act in such ways. In the context of schools and communities where many young men develop these attitudes, not taking on these hypersexualized and emotionally insensitive personas, can mean real trouble. There is the potential for social ostracization or even physical punishment if you don’t “no homo.”

Social exclusion and verbal harassment, physical harm, bullying and abuse await young men who do not toe the line of the man code in our culture.

Watching Dinwiddie and Thomas in the interview immediately after Thomas’ comment, they both break down into a knowing giggle party, reinforcing, to me their deep anxiety about potentially getting caught in a moment where their masculine bonafides might be up for question. Even in Thomas’ attempt at an apology on Twitter, he tries to explain his homophobia away by saying he was “just being playful.” And in a certain way, he is absolutely correct. The “play” here is the performative verbal dance he must engage in and which he is taught in order to make sure no one looks askance at his masculine identity. Thomas is 21 years old. The environment of high school where this bro’ training goes on is only a few years past.

Thomas should not have been fined. The fine is a way to never have to confront deeper systems that make his attitudes and beliefs about manhood so deeply dehumanizing for the targets of his comment as well as himself. The fine is just another version of don’t ask, don't tell, but in this case, for larger social systems to which generations of young men find themselves subject. The bigger question is how can sports leagues and institutions which have such an outsized impact play a socially responsible role in creating greater tolerance and healthier attitudes for our boys.





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