Before we begin, I should note that if you shared jokes, memes, or videos making light of these sexual assault allegations, then you are a part of the problem — but you gon’ learn today.
Earlier this year, an Atlanta man named Stephen Harper filed a lawsuit claiming former NBA player Dwight Howard sexually assaulted him at his home in July 2022. Last week, news broke that Howard’s lawyers pushed to have the civil case thrown out. Court documents obtained by several news outlets found that Howard wasn’t denying that he’d had “consensual sexual activity” with his accuser, but Howard’s lawyers claimed there was no sexual assault.
The news hit social media with a thud, and instead of the outrage being placed on the assault allegations, almost immediately came the jokes about Howard’s sexuality. I won’t share the tweets here because they are tasteless, but that’s to be expected when it comes to social media. At its best, social media can be a place for educated discourse, yet, at its worst, it can easily be the bully lunch table that makes us too sick to even eat. Howard’s case brought out the worst.
According to RadarOnline, which posted the police report filed by Harper, Harper claims that the two men met on Instagram in May 2021 and began dating shortly after. Harper claims that he and Howard were in a long-distance relationship when he agreed to meet at the basketball player’s Georgia home.
Once at Howard’s home, Harper claims that the two men began kissing. Later that evening, a friend of Howard’s arrived at Howard’s home. Howard allegedly wanted all of the parties to have a threesome, to which Harper claims he said no. The police report alleges that Howard forcibly performed oral sex on Harper and then forced Harper to perform oral sex on him. Harper claims that he began crying and adds that Howard told him that he would be killed should he ever tell anyone what happened.
Howard’s lawyers claim that all of this is a money grab for Harper, who allegedly threatened to out Howard unless he was paid off.
“What was a private consensual encounter was made public for profit and Mr. Howard looks forward to bringing the truth to light in a court of law,” Howard’s lawyer, Justin Bailey, told ESPN. “The allegations against Mr. Howard are contested. Mr. Howard intends to present the truth. The truth is Mr. Howard blocked Mr. Harper on social media and then was confronted with two options ― pay to protect his reputation or have a fabricated story made public. Despite being an easy target due to the subject matter and his status as a celebrity, Mr. Howard chose to trust in the justice system and will rely on all future court filings to speak for themselves.”
While I want to note that the claims against Howard are allegations, I would like to add that the jokes, memes, and inability to have an adult conversation around sexuality is part of the reason sexual assaults against both men and women go grossly underreported.
“Males are usually less willing to report abuse compared to females probably due to shame and self-blame regarding the inability to prevent what happened … Consequently, sexual offenses often go unreported,” according to the National Institute of Health.
If you’ve shared memes, jokes or text messages about the allegations, then I would like to add that you are part of the problem and I want all of us to grow up. Howard’s sexuality is his business and I wish folks like Cam’ron and the onetime rapper-turned-pastor-turned-rapper-turned-podcaster Ma$e could’ve stopped giggling long enough to have a serious conversation about what all of this means during their podcast “It Is What It Is.”
During a recent episode, both Ma$e and Cam’ron could barely finish their thoughts because they couldn’t stop laughing.
“Stop telling people, ‘I don’t care what you do on your own time.’ Because we do care,” Ma$e said. “And women, you gotta stop. We gotta stop telling n***as, ‘What you do in your own personal time has nothing to do with me.’ It does matter. These are the lies that are going on in society. We tell people it doesn’t matter. But behind your back, it matters. It matters.”
Let’s be clear, I don’t look to Cam’ron or Ma$e to be the cultural beacon in the homophobic storm, but their wildly popular podcast had a chance for a real — at the very least non-joking — conversation around the topic and presumed fear of homosexuality in professional sports, which still seems to abide by the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy of the Clinton administration. But that’s probably a bit too much to expect from a podcast so steeped in perpetuating the continued miseducation of homophobes that if someone says something that even veers remotely close to the LGBTQ space during an episode that the offender has to say “pause” before the other hits him with an “Ayo?!” Because the last thing you want to do in the puffed-up, phony, overly masculine hip-hop space is be perceived as gay. Don’t get it? Good. That means that your brain has trouble processing junior high school antics and that’s a good thing.
Howard broke his silence to address the rapcasters comments surrounding the allegations against him.
“Why do you or anybody care who the hell I spend my time with? ... The people who know what’s going on in my bed, they know what hell going on with my bed and what the hell I do in it,” Howard said in a video posted on social media, later adding, “I don’t gotta tell nobody where I put my wood at since y’all wanna get to it. That ain’t nobody business where I put my shit at. Y’all just weird. If you wanna know what people doing in their bedroom or who they messin’ with or sleeping with, you are weird!”
And Howard isn’t wrong. While he ignores the assault allegations against him, he’s right to note that what he does in his bedroom is his business. He’s right to say that we are weird if we are busy worrying about the sexuality of a grown man. Even after the allegations, Howard has refused to define his sexuality and good for him. What he’s done is challenge those who want to know. In a recent interview with Coach PR on Sirius XM’s Shade 45 channel, Howard refused to answer whether or not he’s gay.
Coach PR: “Are you gay?”
Howard: “Is this what you want to talk about?”
Coach PR: “Nah, I don’t want to talk about that.”
Howard: “So then why are we talking about it?”
Coach PR: “Because you went viral off of that.”
Howard: “I went viral for a lot of things and what I do in my personal life is nobody’s business.”
Howard’s defiance is to be admired, but the allegations cannot be ignored. The claims are serious and disturbing if true. Howard’s sexuality was never supposed to be the story, but the truth is we’ve not grown past the easy one-liners and finger pointing that makes America the excruciating long school bus ride of insults and jeers.
Maleness has to stop being defined by its proximity to violence and the propensity for chaos. At some point, there needs to be a measuring stick for maleness that allows for a deeper conversation than whom someone sleeps with. At some point, we’ve got to recognize that the flippant jokes aid in the silence of sexual assault victims.
If we are to call ourselves men, then we’ve got to grow past the schoolyard taunts around sexuality into deeper conversations like: who hurt you, and why do you think it’s important for you to know whom another man is sleeping with?
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.