HASnthony Edwards, without a doubt, is a rising star in the NBA. He was the No 1 overall pick in 2020 for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and averaged more than 25 points per game in last season’s playoffs. Edwards even took his star power to the big screen in a LeBron James production, Hustle, as the trash-talking basketball player Kermit Wilts.
But recently Edwards traded trash-talking on the screen for homophobic language in real life, which he posted to his 1.2m followers on Instagram. On Sunday, he tweeted an apology, saying his comments were “immature, hurtful, and disrespectful”. Undoubtedly, Edwards can play basketball, but what kind of man, role model, or leader is he? What actions should be taken to discourage this kind of behavior in the NBA and the wider sports world?
As an NFL player, I have been in locker rooms with some of the toughest, strongest, and most dedicated people on the planet. I know firsthand that being an elite athlete comes with costs: countless hours of practice, relentless film study and the looming possibility of injury. But that should never come at the expense of respect for others.
I do not know what type of man Edwards is – no one truly knows that except Edwards himself and those close to him. But I do know that as a professional athlete, a role model, a teammate, and a leader, your actions will reach more people than most of us ever will.
Edwards is only 21, and youth is often used to excuse the kind of shameful behavior he displayed on Instagram. But I offer this perspective: There is never an age that justifies hate, homophobia, racism, misogyny, or bigotry of any kind. As for what he should do next to make amends, issuing an apology and hoping the incident will be forgotten is not enough. Time does not erode homophobia: Edwards needs to take conscious, concrete action to rectify his actions. LeBron James was drafted out of high school and has not only become one of the greatest basketball players of all time but has managed to also make headlines for his accomplishments, activism, and business endeavors, rather than for slurs he could have peddled on social media if he had acted like Edwards. LeBron, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Oscar Robertson before him, has solidified his legacy on and off the court, something I hope Edwards is thinking about now.
The Timberwolves issued a statement on Monday with the usual platitudes about being “inclusive” and “welcoming”. And we can only assume that Edwards’ punishment will be along the lines of the $50,000 fine given to Kevin Durant after his disturbing, homophobic and misogynistic rant last year. But, if that does turn out to be the punishment, is it enough? The Timberwolves will pay Edwards $10.7m this season: $50,000 for him is like a $100 parking ticket for the rest of us. A fine would be little more than a Band-Aid: a quick fix that is unlikely to make any difference to Edwards, who will still be available to play for the Timberwolves. If just a fine is issued, Edwards and his team will have been prioritized over the countless LGBTQ+ people who suffer directly from the corrosive sentiments perpetuated and reinforced by his Instagram post.
As a professional athlete, I know how hard it is to get to the top and then stay there. So it truly pains me to say that Edwards’ basketball career as well as his bank account should be affected by his actions, even if it’s only a minimal disruption. A suspension, a fine, and a donation to LGBTQ+ organizations of his choosing would send a message to the community that the NBA and its athletes are committed to being as inclusive as possible. It would also show other top-tier male athletes that there is no room for homophobia. Edwards choosing the organization he donates to would be an excellent opportunity for him to connect with his LGBTQ+ fans in a genuine and compassionate manner. It would also allow him to further his education and allyship by meeting LGBTQ+ people and discovering we are the same as everyone else – sports fans, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers and fathers – rather than people to be mocked on social media.
Only time will tell if Edwards’ apology means anything. If he genuinely cares about those he’s harmed, the message he’s perpetuated, and the direction of his legacy. Or if he and the NBA are only concerned with reactive apologies and trivial fines.