The Bulls center has been getting a lot of heat for calling a fan a "fag" (If I'm reading his lips properly). And rightfully so. Despite my love for South Park I disagree with their attempt to redefine the word fag or faggot to mean something other than a gay slur. Yes the word has had other meanings. But the predominant meaning is that of a gay slur.
The NBA can largely do what it wants since its a largely private organization. I say largely because I'm pretty sure some stadiums/arenas where they play are publicly funded. And even if they aren't there are aspects of public policy that allow a private owner to build their venues for their teams to play in. So I don't have a problem with the NBA fining Noah (or Kobe Bryant a little while back) for using this language. And I think it could be effective in changing the culture that encourages gay discrimination and bashing. (On a related note, I'm glad to see a Suns executive come out. Props to him for the courage to do so.)
But as far as society is concerned I think a less aggressive approach is appropriate in getting rid of gay discrimination and bashing. I favor a John Stuart Mill approach to free speech, meaning that I want every form of speech available in the marketplace of ideas or in just our society's language in general. That means I don't think most speech should be censored or regulated. I don't think any form of political speech should be censored. And while I can probably be persuaded that some non-political speech should at times be censored, I will error on the side of not censoring it.
While I think the word "nigger" has a more hurtful connotation for black people than fag/faggot does for gay people (though maybe not by much) I think there are some similarities. Fag is less taboo than nigger. But as we are seeing with the NBA, fag seems to be creeping towards nigger on the taboo scale. And I think that's great. It should be taboo to use these words or phrases in a hateful manner. But these words are a cultural 'no-no' because we as a society have deemed them so. And we have deemed them so because enough people recognize the problems and have decided to fight against it. I think that is the more effective way of handling things than fining someone who partakes in using the language.
And contrary to what the right likes to say, those of use who try to maintain that people should not be using these words are not calling for gov't action or trying to take away your right to free speech. As I just said, I don't believe in doing that. What we are trying to do is discourage you from using words like fag by criticizing you when you use them. We aren't saying that you can't go on tv or something and say them. We are just saying that its wrong and we will criticize you loudly for doing so.