Gordon's gay slur strikes historical chord

Gordon's gay slur strikes historical chord
April 15, 2013, 8:30 am
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Earthquakes forward Alan Gordon directed a gay slur towards Timbers midfielder Will Johnson on Sunday night. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

Alan Gordon of the San Jose Earthquakes snapped Sunday night, and dropped the F-word on Portland’s Will Johnson.

And no, not THAT F-word. The other F-word. The gay slur F-word. The gay slur F-word on television, at that. Which in our it’s-always-worse-when-you-see-it culture makes it weirdly better, because then it can be punishable if someone wants to go to the trouble of punishing it.

[RELATED: Quakes' Alan Gordon apologizes for gay slur]

Major League Soccer will punish it, of course, if for no less cynical reason than because the NBC images say it must. But the entire incident is instructive because the GSFW (gay slur F-word) is still so pernicious, so hard to eradicate.

We will, for purposes of this discussion, take Gordon at his word that his use of the word does not reflect his feelings about gay and lesbian people. We don’t know what actually resides in his heart, and almost surely will never know.

But with the Jackie Robinson movie “42” now out, and the most instructive scene being Philadelphia manager Ben Chapman excruciatingly racist on-field diatribe directed toward Robinson, the GSFW sort of jumps out at you.

Chapman’s rage is so convincingly portrayed by actor Alan Tudyk that Whoopi Goldberg had to expressly warn her audience during a show-length interview with other members of the cast that Tudyk was in fact acting, and that it should not be taken as proof of character.

And that hits home, too. The words still stab, even in an acting context with a therapeutic end. And though Gordon may very well have just used the word Sunday night as a momentary way to rile Johnson and not as a statement of preference, it is not floating cheerfully across society the way it once did.

Indeed, Chapman’s actual tirade caused a sensation even back in 1947, to the point where he asked to have a picture taken with Robinson the next time the teams met because of the backlash.
 

Words are entirely about context. In and of themselves, they are value neutral. But words do not stand alone in and of themselves because they are delivered in juxtaposition with other words, and delivered with different meanings by different people. It is seeing and hearing them as delivered that give them their context, and the context of Chapman’s words is pure hatred. The context of Tudyk’s words is not love per se, but of storytelling toward a laudable end. Without Tudyk's context put to Chapman's words, the greater story cannot be told.

Where Gordon’s context truly lays is something for only his heart to truly know, but the needle points closer to Chapman’s than Tudyk’s. Even if for a moment, drawn from a well not of anti-gay sentiment but simply years of conditioning, the message is still a clear one, and Gordon pays because the word came so easily to his tongue.

If there is an updraft here, it is that Chapman’s speech is no longer permitted in reasonable society. Gordon’s word is heading that way. But 65 years is a long time to wait for the boat to turn, and that’s the problem. A lot of damage is done every day with it, and Gordon’s lesson will be learned by a few folks. And someone else will use it and the lesson will be learned by a few more. And on and on, and day after day. The steps are too small in and of themselves, but eventually they get you where we all need to go.
 

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