Rajon Rondo, Doc Rivers and the Bill Kennedy Secret

No one knows which came first. Was veteran NBA referee Bill Kennedy going to out himself as a gay man right before Christmas? Or did Rajon Rondo in a moment of frustration or homophobia (take your pick) push the envelope precipitating an idea before it had the chance to come full circle into birth? In the end, perhaps, it doesn’t matter how it all started because this kind of damage can’t be walked back, not in a heated NBA moment when Rajon Rondo hurled the same pejorative twice, and then denied he said it.

When it was proven Rondo pointedly skewered Kennedy with the gay slur that homosexual men have heard all of their lives- which doesn’t lessen the impact- the context of Rondo’s suspension was funneled through the prism of homophobia. Reflexively, he became the symbol of an athletic man intolerant of homosexuality; he became both a stereotype and an anecdote trending on social media.

Let’s go back. Several years ago, disgraced referee Tim Donaghy publicly stated that one of his fellow officials, NBA referee Bill Kennedy, was gay. In an interview on the Celtics Late Night Show, Donaghy was asked why Doc Rivers had a difficult time with Bill Kennedy.

“It’s no secret on the staff that Bill Kennedy is a homosexual. It was known around the league, it was obvious during a game Doc Rivers questioned his sexual orientation and I think that has stuck with Kennedy over the years and he has no love for Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics.” (reported by Red’s Army)

On April 29th, Donaghy tweeted:

NBA referee Bill Kennedy still screwing Doc Rivers (Clipps), should have never busted his chops about being gay.

Bill Kennedy has been a NBA ref for 18 seasons. He has officiated 1,056 regular season games and 68 playoff games and 5 NBA Finals games. He is the only NBA referee to work the NBA All-Star game, the NBA Finals, and an Olympics bronze medal game in the same year. Although some of his fellow referees knew Kennedy was gay, others learned about it today when he released this statement.

I am proud to be an NBA referee and I am proud to be a gay man. I am following in the footsteps of others who have self-identified in the hopes that will send a message to young men and women in sports that you must allow no one to make you feel of ashamed of who you are.”

How did we get here?

Rajon Rondo, on December 3, had several interactions with Kennedy. The first encounter had Rondo fuming and Kennedy gave him a technical. The second encounter had Rondo incensed and hyper-emotional. He had to be pulled away by teammates and that’s when he chased after Kennedy and called him the slur (twice).

Gregg Popovich was disgusted by it. He supports Kennedy:

Bill is a great guy. 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.”

When it became news today, Rondo remarked on Twitter:

My actions during that game were out of frustration and emotion, period! They absolutely do not reflect my feelings towards the LGBT community. I did not mean to offend or disrespect anyone.

Rondo’s intention isn’t the issue. His behavior is. He was angry, frustrated, pissed off, impulsive and unable to control his emotions so he scraped the bottom of the barrel for the worst insult possible. And then he denied saying it before retracting his denial. Did he know Kennedy was gay? Is it true that Doc Rivers had knowledge of Kennedy as a gay man and therefore so did his players, including Rondo?

The old rules of bias don’t apply in an inclusive world.  In his remarks on Twitter, Rondo never directly apologized to Bill Kennedy himself, as if Kennedy wasn’t really a victim and that it was all just in-game emotion. The Sacramento Kings however did directly apologize to Kennedy. But for Rondo, where was the atonement?

National Basketball Referee’s Association general counsel, Lee Seham, agreed with the others who said Rondo was chasing Kennedy and had to be restrained, all the while spewing hate, even as team security was involved.

Although the suspension was a splash, a more effective punishment would have been to fine Rondo on top of what he loses in game pay ($115,853) that goes into education programs that benefit LGBT anti-bias programs. Give Rondo sensitivity training. Make him meet with Kennedy face to face, man to man.

The NBRA said of Kennedy, “The NBA referees stand by Bill Kennedy for the job he does and who he is. We stand against bigotry in all forms.”

photo via llananba