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Two weeks? Slap on the wrist? Lifetime banishment? Sensitivity training? Mandatory viewing of the first season of Glee ? Seems everyone had a different level of outrage and theory on the appropriate punishment for inappropriate behavior at the ballpark last month.
The occasion was an incident Saturday, April 23 at AT&T Park before the Giants home game against the Atlanta Braves, a team the Giants had dispatched in the first round of the playoffs last season en route to their World Series championship. Several fans said Atlanta pitching coach Roger McDowell made harassing, homophobic comments and gestures to men in the bleachers. One of the fans and attorney Gloria Allred reenacted the gestures, complete with baseball bat, in a televised press conference three days later, no doubt for the imagination challenged; that led to a two-week suspension from Major League Baseball. Three days after having given a workshop in San Mateo on making sports more inclusive and welcoming, I found myself being interviewed on television talking about why it is important to address these homophobic incidents head on.
McDowell apologized for his behavior with a statement that was mercifully absent the conditional "if" that effectively renders apologies into non-apologies, but deflected partial responsibility back to the people in the stands: "I am deeply sorry that I responded to the heckling fans in San Francisco on Saturday. I apologize to everyone for my actions." After the Braves placed McDowell on administrative leave, MLB followed up by suspending him for two weeks.
"The fact that Coach McDowell will be subjected to an unprecedented two-week suspension, be required to take sensitivity training and be fined, demonstrates that Major League Baseball believes that homophobic slurs, sexually lewd conduct and threatening behavior by coaches or any other person employed at a game in the Major League will not be tolerated," Allred said.
As is so often the case, it is difficult to know exactly what happened at the park and what triggered it. Shortly after the press conference, Outsports.com posted a story questioning what actually happened in the incident and the motives in hiring a high-profile attorney. The San Francisco Chronicle quoted portions of a letter written by another fan that referred to most of the actions McDowell was alleged to have done, and reported that in a subsequent interview he did confirm one of the homophobic taunts. And as the incident came a week after Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was caught on camera speaking the slur that dares not be spoken, earning him a $100,000 fine but no suspension, people have tried to parse the significance and sufficiency of McDowell's punishment.
Real, long-term change will not be achieved through punitive case-by-case responses, but only through proactive, ongoing administrative actions.
"Major League Baseball is a social institution that brings people together and welcomes all individuals of different races, religions, genders, national origins and sexual orientations into its ballparks," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a prepared statement. "Conduct by people associated with MLB that shows insensitivity to others simply cannot and will not be tolerated. I understand that Mr. McDowell is very contrite about his conduct, and hopefully this incident will be used to increase public awareness of the importance of sensitivity to others. I commend Justin Quinn and his family for bringing this issue to our attention so that it will not happen again in the future."
It is wonderful for the commissioner to say such behavior "cannot" and "will not" be tolerated, but today's reality is that it "is" and "has been." The beating of a San Francisco fan last month at a Dodgers game in Los Angeles was an extreme reminder of how ubiquitous out-of-control fan behavior truly is. The utterances of ugly homophobic slurs by coaches and players occurs daily with nary a shrug from management. Occasional fines for public incidents, juxtaposed against ongoing tolerance of everyday verbal crap, indicates that management may not approve but really just doesn't give a damn.
It has been more than a decade since another former Brave, John Rocker, went on a infamous tirade in which he managed to offend a rainbow of minorities and continued to spout off even after apologies and a 14-game suspension. It would be difficult to document any progress of proactive steps MLB has taken in the intervening years to address the hostile climate. Let's hope that Selig's statement is the first step forward toward proactive, institutional solutions rather than merely pandering to the cameras until the media's collective attention moves onto the next bright shiny object.
Tsunami de Mayo water polo tournament
The 11th annual Tsunami de Mayo water polo tournament kicks off Saturday, May 7, with matches all day long at the Soda Aquatics Center at Campolindo High School in Moraga and concludes Sunday evening. Mayoral candidate Bevan Dufty is scheduled to be the guest master of ceremonies for the fundraising Splish party and fashion show at the Lookout bar, 3600 16th Street, from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday. The event helps raise funds to send the San Francisco Tsunami water polo team to the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics championships in Honolulu in July.
For more information, see www.tsunamipolo.org.