Brian Kinchen, a former pro player-turned-ESPN announcer, was benched from the network for what a corporate VP called his "inappropriate" use of the word "gay" on the air.
The 41-year-old former NFL tight end was calling a college game between Iowa and Northern Illinois last Saturday on ESPNU. After watching an NIU receiver turn and fail to catch a pass that landed a little behind him, Kinchen made the point that the receiver should have used his hands—not his body—to catch the ball. But he apparently put too fine a point on his observation. "Your hands are tender and they can move and caress the ball," Kinchen said, and then added: "That's kinda gay, but hey."
A long and very awkward silence ensued. The sports-gossip blog, Deadspin, described it this way: "All that's audible is vacant crowd noise, but if you listen hard enough, you can hear the play-by-play guy thinking, ‘Well, what the hell am I supposed to say now?' and Kinchen, thinking, 'Uh oh.'"
Both ESPN and Kinchen issued next-day apologies. "[My words] were completely inappropriate and not at all a reflection of who I am or the way I perform my work," Kinchen said after being sidelined. "I have learned from my mistake and look forward to continuing my broadcasting career." But according to ESPN execs, the jury is still out on Kinchen's future.
The swift suspension has sparked a predictable free speech vs. homophobia debate among sports fans of all sexualities. What was less predictable was the difference of opinion among gay men not only about whether the punishment fit the crime but about whether Kinchen's colorful comments were any kind of crime at all.
"ESPN absolutely did the right thing in expressing their unwillingness to tolerate the use of the word gay as derogatory in any sense," opined Towleroad, a popular gay blog.
But others stopped to give Kinchen's comments some thought before rushing to judgment. "This guy should not be losing his job over that comment," posted the blog called Low Resolution. "I'm sorry. This wasn't even using 'gay' as a pejorative, it was just standard issue gay panic by a jock who had metaphorically slapped his teammate on the ass and left his hand there for too long."
No one can agree on what exactly Kinchen meant by "kinda gay." Was it his poetic use of the words "tender" and "caress" in describing football? Was it the double meaning in "hand ... caress ... ball"? And the questions keep coming. Did he use the g-word in merely a descriptive sense or with the intention to demean? And what was he demeaning? Poetic expression? Tender hands? Affection between men? Himself? Does it help to know that the married-with-family Kinchen is an evangelical Christian?
The more you think about it, the more mysterious it gets. The entire incident is, well, kinda queer. (Hey, can I still say that?)
Calling all Real Jocks: What do you think Kinchen meant? Was he being offensive? Or did ESPN hit the PC button too fast?