I was about to make a post about this story yesterday, but then I went to Deadspin and saw they had already basically posted my stance on the whole thing. So, I decided against it, but now I think I want to know what all my close personal friends think about this. If you by chance didn’t hear about the controversy, Kevin Garnett is in a lot of hot water because he allegedly referred to Charlie Villanueva as a “cancer patient.” Villanueva has a skin condition that causes him to lose the hair on his scalp and other parts of his body. After the game, Villanueva tweeted what Garnett had said, called him classless and the firestorm started from there.
There was a race to get up onto the high horse to bury KG. Someone went as far as to say he had tainted his legacy. Garnett was forced to respond and came up with the flimsy looking excuse of claiming he said, “Villanueva is a cancer on his team.” Now, that doesn’t sound like any trash talk I’ve ever heard before. In fact, if I had to guess I’d say that Garnett said exactly what Villanueva said he did. Have you seen Kevin Garnett play basketball? He doesn’t look like someone who is out there using the filter. It’s just 100 percent raw emotion. Is that an excuse to say whatever he wants? No, but I don’t think we can get a look at what kind of person KG is by critiquing his trash talk.
One thing that drives me crazy in modern society is that you cannot say anything without someone taking it to its most literal place. If KG called Villanueva a cancer patient, it means he doesn’t care about people suffering from cancer, he’s wildly self-centered, and completely out of touch with reality. Kevin Garnett is rooting for cancer! Can you believe it? Of course, I’m sure that isn’t true. What Garnett is really telling Villanueva is that in that moment of the game he will say anything he can to get an edge. And, shouldn’t we be smart enough to understand the difference? He’s talking trash, something that occurs during every second of an NBA game. If we could take transcripts from the paint of your average NBA game and examine the language, I’m sure you’d be horrified.
And, I’m sure people will cry out about the example it sets. If KG or Michael Jordan before him is calling someone a cancer patient or in Jordan’s case a “flaming f____,” then we’re going to have an entire generation of kids coming up who think it is all right to use these terms. I don’t think that point is completely without merit, but the most important thing for me is teaching kids or setting the example that what you do should have more of an impact than what you say. That is the toughest thing to combat in the social media age where any line of dialog, off-hand or otherwise can be rebroadcast to any and everyone in seconds.
I certainly would rather be judged by my actions, by people that know the type of person I am than by someone who picked up a random piece of my dialog and made a decision on me. I have let some filthy words fly from my mouth. I have laughed at jokes that people would consider inappropriate. If that was the only thing you knew of me, I guess you could say that I was a racist, or a sexist, but I think you’d be making an incorrect assessment. I really think it is all right to laugh at a joke that is made in poor taste, and I think there are times when you can say just whatever you’d like and face no repercussions.
Jokes and language perpetuate the stereotypes and biases that get us in these positions to begin with…I understand that, but people need an outlet sometimes. No one can go through life on an even keel. Obviously, KG is not capable of playing a basketball game with plateaued emotions. He’s screaming, yelling, and talking a non-stop string of trash probably because if he didn’t, he’d end up in a fight every game at one extreme or be completely ineffective at the other.
There’s always a balance here. I’m not saying you should be the guy at the club that sits around rifling off one sexist joke after another, but I think it’s all right to laugh. That doesn’t mean you don’t care about your wife or women in general. And, to take it a step further I’d still rather have a guy who tells jokes but treats his wife like a queen than a guy who takes the moral high ground in public, but treats his wife like crap behind closed doors. And, if you think you can have the best of all these worlds, you are kidding yourself. Don’t tell me you’ve never laughed at a joke, or made a joke at someone else’s expense, or said something you regret, it’s not possible.
And for public figures, they can’t get away with anything. I can get away with most anything. If I am sitting around with only my closest friends and I want to call one of them something horrifying and offensive, I can do that without consequence, and I think I should be able to. But, athletes don’t have that luxury. They have to be accountable for every single word that comes out of their mouth, and that’s difficult to do. Especially when that boundary extends out to the playing field during the game. There are some who feel Villanueva is the one who crossed the line for tweeting something that was said during the game. The unwritten rule is that, or words said within the locker room are off limits.
But, Villanueva took what Garnett said to Twitter and KG is public enemy number one. It’s a little ridiculous. I have no idea if Kevin Garnett is a nice guy or not, but I’m not going to judge that based on something he said to Charlie Villanueva during a basketball game.