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VIDEO: Joakim Noah's Gay Slur Discussed On ESPN To Much Head-Scratching

Joakim Noah's homophobic slur is obviously one of the NBA's hottest topics, and viewed in the larger context of gay rights efforts and the sports world's lurching progress in that realm, it's disappointing both as an individual act and a sign that prejudice isn't so easily cordoned off.

Noah's reputation as one of the NBA's more thoughtful, open-minded players precedes him, and the unstated subtext of that and his multicultural New York City upbringing is that he's one of the more liberal NBA players. So when f----t comes out of Noah's mouth, it comes as a shock: supposedly enlightened players aren't supposed to be tossing out the same slurs that renowned jerks Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant did. And that should prompt questions about whether the problem of anti-gay language extends beyond just the NBA's jerks.

But ESPN's announcing crew for last night's Game 4 between the Mavericks and Thunder — play-by-play man Mike Breen and color commentators Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy — was so ill-equipped to discuss Noah's slur, they failed to even mention the sort of slur it was more than once, instead criticizing almost everyone but Noah for their role in the incident.

Breen lauds Noah for being "enlightened" and "thoughtful," and mentions that NBA officials think Noah handled the situation very well. Jackson then quibbles with Noah's fine being less than Bryant's for "the same crime"; Breen explains that Bryant's fine is larger because Bryant directed his slur at an official, and finally mentions, about a minute into the discussion, that it was an anti-gay slur.

Then Van Gundy criticizes the NBA for being "ambiguous" in its punishment, and dives further down the fan vs. official rabbit hole, which gives Breen a chance to say that the fan who Noah slurred was heckling Noah with "derogatory statements about his mother," and opine that "I don't think he should be treated the same way," which gives Van Gundy a chance to criticize hecklers.

Oh, and then Jackson brings up the notion that players have been saying things like this for a while, which he uses as a justification for "We, as a league, need to do a better job of protecting players from the fans." Breen takes that bait, and digresses into what teams and fans can do.

But Jackson wasn't done: he criticized ESPN and TNT for looking for the "go-to shot" of a player that might include foul language, and Van Gundy jumped on, lamenting the search for the "gotcha moment." Van Gundy asks: "Why don't we show players when they comport themselves well going back to the bench?"

Breen justifies that practice by noting that the viewer likes to see "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." Van Gundy disagrees, shrilly noting "That's not serving the viewer!" Breen holds his ground.

And so a discussion that began with Stuart Scott explaining Joakim Noah being fined for an anti-gay slur finished with a "debate" about whether producers should show frustrated players. In their bizarre digression, ESPN's analysts managed to neglect what could have been a discussion about the prevalence of homophobic language in the NBA and how stunningly easy it is for even a supposed "good guy" to lash out. Instead, they engaged in what felt like farce, and spent their time criticizing fan behavior and wondering if broadcasters should show players who might be angry, with what seemed like more criticism for producers showing Noah's and others' slurs than for the slurs themselves. It was surreal, circuitous, and reflected poorly on all involved.

Meanwhile, a little more than two minutes ticked off the clock in Oklahoma City, and the Thunder and Mavericks traded baskets as OKC nursed a nine-point lead.