NBA referee Bill Kennedy reveals he is gay; Rajon Rondo made slur to him

The Vertical
Yahoo Sports

Bill Kennedy, one of the NBA's top referees, has revealed he is gay.

"I am proud to be an NBA referee and I am proud to be a gay man," Kennedy told Yahoo Sports on Sunday night. "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 ashamed of who you are."

Bill Kennedy has worked 18 seasons as an NBA referee. (AP)
Bill Kennedy has worked 18 seasons as an NBA referee. (AP)

Kennedy declined further comment on his announcement.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver delivered a statement of support for Kennedy.

"I wholeheartedly support Bill's decision to live his life proudly and openly," Silver told Yahoo Sports in a statement. "Throughout his 18-year career with the league, Bill has excelled as a referee because of his passion, dedication and courage. Those qualities will continue to serve him well both as a game official and as a positive influence for others. While our league has made great progress, our work continues to ensure that everyone is treated with respect and dignity."

Kennedy's announcement comes in the wake of the NBA's suspension of Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo, who game officials, including Kennedy, heard unleash a disturbing torrent of anti-gay slurs following his ejection from a game on Dec. 3 in Mexico City.

After Kennedy, 49, ejected Rondo with consecutive technical fouls in a Kings loss to the Boston Celtics, Rondo defied league protocol to immediately leave the court and began stalking Kennedy, who had retreated to a far sideline of the floor.

In the game officials’ report used as part of the NBA's investigation – which includes details provided to Yahoo Sports from National Basketball Referee's Association general counsel Lee Seham – Kennedy and fellow referee Ben Taylor described Rondo's post-ejection diatribe as including the statements: "You're a mother------- faggot. … You're a f------ faggot, Billy."

Seham reported that a third official, Bennie Adams, outside of hearing distance, "affirmed that Rondo aggressively pursued referee Bill Kennedy and had to be restrained by teammates and escorted off the floor by Sacramento team security."

The three officials – Kennedy, Taylor and Adams – confirmed those reports in taped interviews conducted by NBA security on Dec. 4, Seham said.

Kennedy (right) said he is proud to be an NBA referee and I am proud to be a gay man. (AP)
Kennedy (right) said he is proud to be an NBA referee and I am proud to be a gay man. (AP)

Seham told Yahoo Sports: "The NBA referees stand by Bill Kennedy for the job he does and who he is. We stand against bigotry in all its forms."

In suspending Rondo on Friday, the NBA issued a statement saying that he had been punished for "directing a derogatory and offensive term towards a game official and not leaving the court in a timely manner."

Under typical NBA procedure in these cases, the league had two independent experts review the tapes of the confrontation, and they confirmed the referees' accounts on Rondo's language. This was part of the reason why the league took more than a week to make a ruling on Rondo's punishment.

During the league's investigation, Rondo denied he made the comments. After a Rondo spokesperson declined comment about the matter when reached by Yahoo Sports earlier Monday, Rondo admitted late Monday afternoon on Twitter he had made the slur, saying his actions "were out of frustration and emotion." Kings officials condemned Rondo's comments toward Kennedy.

Rondo is the third NBA player to be punished for the use of anti-gay slurs, but the first to be suspended. Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah was fined $50,000 during the 2011 playoffs for making a slur toward a heckling fan, and Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for using an anti-gay slur toward a referee earlier that same season. Both players apologized for the comments.

Rondo – who is making $9.5 million this season – is suspended for Sacramento's game against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday. He will lose $86,300 in game salary for the suspension.

Kennedy is the second NBA referee to make a public announcement about being gay. Referee Violet Palmer revealed she is gay upon getting married to her longtime partner, Tanya Stine, in 2014

Across 18 NBA seasons, Kennedy has officiated 1,056 regular-season and 68 playoff games, including five NBA Finals games. For FIBA, he officiated in the 2010 world championships and the 2012 Olympics. He remains the only referee to work the NBA All-Star Game, NBA Finals and bronze-medal Olympic game in the same calendar year.

What to Read Next