The most offensive part of the Spanish basketball team's photo controversy was not the actual photo itself, but the apology, or lack thereof, that followed afterward.
By now, the photo has made its rounds on the Internet and sports talk shows. It shows the 15 Spanish players on the national team in uniform pulling back the skin on their eyelids, in a "slanted-eye" pose in front of a dragon pictured on a basketball court.
The photo is clearly offensive on its face, and there's no doubt that the Spaniards shouldn't have taken this picture. It's racist at its worst, and thoughtless at its best. You'd figure at some point along the way, one of the Spanish players -- or coaches... or advertisers -- that took the picture, really, anyone, would've pointed out that this was going to be offensive before publication.
Yet it slipped all the way through the many levels of review that are in place, and now the Spanish team has tainted its image, something that will follow it for quite some time.
But the reaction from the Spanish team was even more perplexing.
"It was something . . . supposed to be funny or something but never offensive in any way," said forward and NBA Lakers' Pau Gasol.
Gasol seems to be apologizing for the effect that the photo had, instead of taking the taking of the photo in the first place.
Said Spanish point guard Jose Calderon, who plays for the Toronto Raptors: "We felt it was something appropriate, and that it would be interpreted as an affectionate gesture."
Affectionate? Appropriate? Not even on the local playgrounds of elementary schools would anything of this sort be considered appropriate, to say nothing of an Olympian, who is supposed to represent the very best of his country. I know the Olympics are supposed to feature amateur athletes, but this is more like a bunch of four-year olds laughing at vomiting or flatulence.
Either Calderon is really that insensitive to racism, or he's really that delusional in thinking this gesture would be considered to invite friendship rather than spit in the face of it.
In lieu of a full-out apology, Gasol instead blamed the sponsors, who allegedly continually pressed the Spanish team despite protests from some of the players.
"The sponsor insisted and insisted. They pushed because they're the people that pay the money. It was just a bad idea to do that," Gasol told The New York Times.
If Gasol's "excuse" is really true, that must've meant that Gasol knew it was offensive, and knew that it wasn't going to be funny, or affectionate. Gasol can't use the ignorance defense as both a sword and a shield. He either knew it was offensive, or he didn't. And if he knew it was offensive, as a spokesperson for the NBA and a role model he needed to step up and not be a part of something so fundamentally wrong.
Would it be worse if Gasol didn't know this was offensive?
The fact that the photo leaked through so many checkpoints suggests that there are many people who don't think the gesture is blatantly racist, which means that the photo is not an anomaly, but rather a well defined mindset. It also means that a similar photo could pop up in the next few years.
Gasol and Calderon should've known better. The NBA has Asian American fans peppered throughout the United States, with large Chinese populations in both Toronto and Los Angeles. The gesture may have been funny in Spain, but the NBA should look into disciplining all four members of the Spanish national team who play in the league, because it is simply not acceptable in the United States. Nor is not taking responsibility for such an offensive picture.
So far, China has been silent in responding to the picture. Perhaps they are letting their action speak louder than words. Although Spain defeated China 85-75 in overtime Tuesday, China has won over 20 Olympic gold medals, while their Spanish counterparts have managed just one.