Sunday, June 25, 2006

Ozzie Guillen is at it again. By now, everybody who follows sports has heard that he referred to Jay Mariotti with the same derogatory epithet that Jeff Spicoli used to describe the surfing prowess of his rivals, Mark "Cut Back" Davis and Bob "Jungle Death" Gerrard in the dream sequence from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He was wrong to do so, and he apologized.

One can debate the merits of his apology, and its sincerity all day. At least you can. I have to be somewhere in an hour and a half. The real problem with living in an ostensibly free country is that you have to allow people the right to be ignorant. If Ozzie wants to shoot off his mouth and deal with the consequences in the form of a fine or sensitivity training, that's his right. He shouldn't lose his job over something like this. He is paid to win games. He is not paid to be a role model.

My problem with this situation is the hypocrisy in attacking Ozzie for being ignorant in this instance. Jay's own reaction is well worth reading, if only to see him hide behind his status as a journalist. He can claim he is merely staying above the fray, not descending to Ozzie's level. It is, of course, an admirable sentiment. You can check Skip Bayless to see a justification for avoiding locker room confrontations which dances nicely around the issue of whether or not the columnist who does so lacks intestinal fortitude.

Or it would be if it weren't a convenient cop-out. Let's not forget that Mariotti once threatened Hawk Harrelson and then backed off when answered in kind. It's hard to get tougher than a guy changing his tune to "I'll sue you" in an altercation. Mariotti's a bully and a coward, and shame on you Ozzie for expressing it with the regrettable term you used.

But back to Jay's response...

He opens with this gem worthy of Hemingway, provided of course that Hemingway had been lobotomized and a bad writer to boot: "Try as I do, it's hard to view sports as some sort of guiding light for humankind." This isn't 1947 any more, Jay. Sports is entertainment, now. Only this, and nothing more. Of course, I am running a grave risk with this post, since Jay staked the claim to the moral high ground. But the post must go on.

This particular passage, the link that connects what I've said to the central theme of tonight's stream of consciousness, is particularly noteworthy. Mariotti claimed that after an incident where Ozzie made an insensitive comment toward a homosexual that he criticized Ozzie for it. Not only that, but Sir Jay was "the only writer in Chicago who did, which is often how it works in a town softer and more politically driven by the sports franchises than a genuinely tough, independent sports media town such as Boston."

So, to quote Hans from Die Hard (for only the second time in the short history of this site): "I could discuss industrialization and men's fashion all day, but work must intrude." I leave aside the Ozzie vs. Jay mess and move on to the "genuinely tough, independent sports media town" which Mariotti apparently loves so well.

Boston has a sizeable gay community. Massachusetts has taken the lead on gay marriage rights. I am not interested in politics, at this point. I reserve the right to keep my opinion on these matters my own. But I must say this. A baseball manager calls a reporter a fag in Chicago and it's national news. He's being treated like Homer Stokes from O Brother Where Art Thou after he revealed that he was a Ku Kluxer. Ozzie certainly deserves punishment, whether or not it should be as severe as Mariotti wants is another question.

What is more important is the institutionalized homophobia of Red Sox Nation. Ozzie calls Mariotti a fag, and everybody has a problem with it. Thousands of fans in Boston wear "Jeter Swallows" t-shirts, and chant Gay-Rod at the Yankee third baseman, and no one says anything about it. Where is the outrage?

In case I missed the reaction in the media, I googled "Gay-Rod" and "Jeter Swallows." The closest I could come to finding anything like a repudiation of this phenomenon is this site. To its credit, Harvard stopped students from selling the shirts when gay student groups complained. A regrettable level of immaturity and ignorance pervades a more representative sample of the sites, like this tool's MySpace profile.

I checked a few other sites too. I went to the Yankee Hater homepage (because of a strong objection to the methodology of their top 10 Yankee haters of all time, I will never link to that site). They didn't seem to have much to say about the homophobia in the stands at Fenway Park. I came across this site which is full of pleasant little snippets calling various Yankees homosexuals. Yeah, the Red Sox were on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy last year, but does that make the Gay-Rod phenomenon go away?

As far as the Red Sox are concerned, they turn a blind eye to this particular aspect of Red Sox Nation's behavior. In Fenway Park A-Z, there is a section on ejection from the park for what the team deems inappropriate actions. Although it states:

Fans are also reminded that anyone observed with offensive articles will be promptly ejected from the park. The Club is committed to maintaining a high level of morality and denounces all forms of misconduct. The Red Sox will continue to make every effort to ensure socially acceptable behavior in order to allow fans to enjoy the game in comfort,

I have yet to hear of anyone ejected from the stadium for Jeter Swallows shirts or Gay-Rod cheers or any other homophobic act.

I managed to unearth this particular gem, by a Boston transplant writing for an Orlando paper. In his way of thinking, the same spirit that motivated the Sons of Liberty to throw tea into Boston Harbor inspires Red Sox fans to wear the infamous shirts and jeer at A-Rod. It reminded me of a professor I had when I was in college. He was fond of saying that in 1773, men disguised as Indians threw tea into a harbor to protest a three cent tax. Now we hand over one third of our pay to the government without thinking twice. Perhaps I would have reacted more favorably to the article if I shared the author's interest in the Red Sox, or the title didn't remind me of Ralph Wiggum's reaction to the card Lisa gave him at the end of the President's Day Pageant.

I looked pretty far and wide on google for any kind of criticism of this sordid mess of childish behavior. I even looked up psychological projection on Wikipedia, in case I could think of a decent joke to lighten the tone of this post. I haven't been able to come up with anything. I don't know why I am the only person that has noticed this behavior and thinks it's a problem.

I'm not gay. As a guy going to a Catholic school, I was as homophobic as the majority of my classmates. I've called people a fag in the same way Ozzie Guillen called out Jay Mariotti. It's just one item in the long list of things I've done and regret as I look back on it. The road to enlightenment has been difficult for me, like it is for most people. Like driving down Dorchester Ave. these days. My problem is with hypocrisy (except, as I've said, my own).

There is no way you can convince me that Ozzie Guillen can be justly punished for his stupid, insensitive, childish comments while sports fans, sports writers and MLB officials turn a blind eye to the homophobia in Red Sox Nation. I agree that Guillen's comment warrants a suspension and sensitivity training, but I don't think MLB can do anything to him without looking foolish (of course, the Selig administration has no problem looking ridiculous). You can't say that one man's homophobic comments are wrong, but the homophobic behavior in a whole group of fans is all in good fun.

No comments: