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Matt Millen Calls Player A 'Faggot'

Lions GM attacks Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Johnnie Morton with gay slur

Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

Detroit Lions president Matt Millen is under fire for calling a former Detroit player a "faggot" in an incident following the Lions game Sunday at Kansas City. Millen apologized Monday, and it is unclear if his job is in jeopardy.

"You faggot! Yeah, you heard me. You faggot!" Millen was heard shouting at Johnnie Morton, a Kansas City wide receiver who played for the Lions for eight years until leaving following the 2001 season. The exchange was reported by Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock, based on interviews with Patrick Herb, a member of the Chiefs' public-relations staff, and Rhonda Moss, a radio reporter. "He said it in front of everybody," Herb told Whitlock. "There were plenty of witnesses."

There has been bad blood between Millen and Morton since the receiver's release. Morton told Whitlock that he felt Millen "tossed me aside like I didn't mean anything."

Following Sunday's game, won by Kansas City, 45-17, Millen and Morton passed each other outside the Chiefs locker room. "What happened was I was just walking by," Morton said. "I wasn't going to say anything to him. I walked past him and he said, ‘Hey, Johnnie.' I ignored him. And then he said, ‘Nice talking to you.' And I said, ‘Kiss my ass.' "

It was then that Millen used the "F" word twice with Morton, though the receiver said he did not hear it at the time. When told the contents of Millen's remarks, Morton responded: ""I apologize for what I said, but I never expected anything like that. What he said is demeaning and bigoted. Jeremy Shockey got in trouble for saying it about a coach (Bill Parcells), and now we have a president of a team making statements like that. It's totally unacceptable. I have gay friends, and I don't even joke around with them like that."

On Sunday night, Millen issued this statement to the Star: "After the game, I was passing the Chiefs' locker room when I stopped to congratulate some of their players. I was talking with Vonnie Holliday, Trent Green, Tony Gonzalez and one of the coaches, Joe Vitt. I wished all those guys the best and good luck in the playoffs.

"I then saw Johnnie, and I tried to wish him the best and congratulate him as well. When I called out to him, he just kept walking and then made a derogatory remark toward me, which really upset me. Unfortunately, I retaliated with a derogatory term directed toward Johnnie.

"I apologize if I offended anyone. It certainly was not meant to do anything other than express my frustration and disappointment."

Millen continued his attempt at damage control Monday, calling a press conference in which he described the incident and again apologized. "I reacted inappropriately and said something I shouldn't have," Millen said. "And I apologize to anybody who I offended with that remark." Millen, however, took no questions.

His performance in trying to explain himself fell flat. Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg listed four questions he wanted to ask Millen:

1. When you called Johnnie Morton a "faggot," were you implying that he is gay? In your mind, is that an insult?

2. How would you feel about an NFL executive who called a player, in anger, the n-word? Would that be an "inappropriate" comment, or would it be worse? And if you think that's worse, why?

3. You also said that Morton said something "inappropriate" when he told you to "kiss my ass." Is his comment the equivalent, in your mind, of what you said?

4. You are the president and chief executive officer of an organization with almost 200 employees. Supposing that at least one of them is gay, would you say that you have created a fair work environment?

Millen has been a bust as general manager, with the Lions going 9-37 during his tenure. He was fined $200,000 last year for ignoring the NFL diversity policy by not interviewing any minority candidates during his search for a head coach. And he came under fire last season for calling a Lions player "a devout coward." The Morton incident may be the final straw, according to Free Press columnist Drew Sharp.

"Millen should fall on his own sword and resign, if only to restore some credibility to an organization that remains largely a laughingstock," Sharp wrote.

Millen received some support from two Lions players quoted by the Free Press. "He apologized, right?" defensive end Robert Porcher asked. "What else can he do?"

Said quarterback Joey Harrington: "I think he reacted the way he did because Johnnie didn't treat him with respect, and he was obviously trying to patch things up and tell him congratulations. One of the reasons I like Matt so much is that he's passionate and he's emotional. He obviously cares about everything he's doing here, but he made a mistake in the way he dealt with that situation. He made an emotional decision and, obviously, it wasn't right."

Some Outsports readers wrote e-mails to the Lions critical of Millen. Said one: "Millen's comments were exceedingly vituperative, extremely vulgar, and highly unprofessional, especially from a president of a PROFESSIONAL football team. If I were working for the Detroit Lions, I'd be embarrassed to walk to the team's headquarters."

This is the fourth major incident in the NFL in the past 15 months involving anti-gay slurs. New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey apologized for saying he didn't want to have a gay teammate, followed a year later by Shockey calling Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells a "homo." San Francisco 49ers running back Garrison Hearst was forced to apologize in November 2002 for saying, "I don't want any faggots on my team." Ironically, Hearst's coach at the time, Steve Mariucci, is now the Lions coach, and he responded to the Millen controversy. "It was unfortunate that this happened," Mariucci said. "He's apologized. I'm not going to distance myself from Matt."