(This story was published in 2004).
Terrell Owens implies that Jeff Garcia is gay. Garcia denies it and mentions that he has had girlfriends. The mainstream media is excited. I yawn.
I confess that the Owens-Garcia lover’s quarrel, as one friend jokingly dubbed it, leaves me underwhelmed. I don’t think Owens’ comments, while classless and ignorant, were all that heinous. And Garcia’s response is annoying.
Yet the dustup between the two former teammates has provided grist for a media mill lacking in much else to write about in the dog days of summer. A Google News search turns up 150 media sources that have run with the story, and ESPN devoted a segment to the issue, spinning it into a larger “homosexuals in the NFL angle.”
Owens, a wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, started things off when his comments in the current issue of Playboy became public. In the article, he was asked whether he thought Garcia was gay. "Like my boy tells me: If it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, by golly, it is a rat."
He then followed up with general comments on having a gay teammate. "I probably wouldn't say anything right off the bat. I'd just see what everyone else has to say. I'd probably keep my distance and, hopefully, he would keep his. If it was a guy who was helping us win ball games, hey, I'd have no problem with it. He can do what he wants to do outside of my everyday life."
A day later he was furiously backspinning. "I didn't say that he was gay," Owens told reporters. "The conversation and the interview were loose. To my knowledge, I'm not sure if Jeff is gay or not. I've seen him out — he had a girlfriend when we were in San Fran. There's been a recent report that he has a girlfriend now. That was the extent of it. Everybody's going to make a big deal out of it. It wasn't like I came out and said 'Jeff was gay.' People asked me similar questions about Steve Young. Everybody is going to have their rumors."
Garcia, now the quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, then felt compelled to respond, telling reporters: “It’s really a waste of my time to sit here and have to answer to such ridiculous, untrue comments that are made out there in the world today. So many people know my situation here. It has never been a secret. It has been written about my girlfriend and about my girlfriends in the past. I don't have a problem about myself, my teammates don’t have a problem with me, and we know what it is.”
Neither athlete has covered himself in glory, and we’ll take them one at the time.
Owens should be the last guy inferring that someone is gay. He fits several gay stereotypes: He’s single and flamboyant and totally obsessed with his body. He loves parading around during practice clad in form-hugging lycra warmup clothes even in the coldest of weather. He also did the gayest thing I ever saw on a football field when he shook pom-poms after scoring a touchdown in 2002. I wished the Playboy writer had asked Owens if he ever went on the down-low.
As for his comments on Garcia, they were ignorant and showed a man lacking in conviction. Some people, including openly gay former player Dave Kopay, were offended by Owens’ use of the word “rat” when discussing Garcia; Kopay thought Owens was equating gay people with vermin. I didn’t take it that way, though certainly his comment was not intended as positive. My guess is that Owens screwed up the saying (“if it quacks like a duck …”) out of ignorance.
What bothers me more are his remarks about playing with a gay teammate. “I'd just see what everyone else has to say.” Owens has to wait to see how the player is treated before he makes up his own mind? That’s about as spineless and as sheep-like as you can get and belies the image Owens has crafted of being his own man.
“If it was a guy who was helping us win ball games, hey, I'd have no problem with it.” Owens would be cool with a gay teammate, but only as long as he was talented? If he sucked, I guess all bets are off. He sounds like the white bigots of the 1960s who were anti-black except for certain entertainers that they happened to like.
Owens followup assertion that he wasn’t calling Garcia gay is laughable. Of course he was, and this inference was confirmed by Dewey Hammond, the Playboy author who spoke with ESPN radio. The interviewer asked Hammond: "Did you interpret that as him saying yes, Jeff Garcia is gay?" Hammond replied: "Did I interpret that? I'd have to say yeah." Owens entered the spin zone by trying to soften what he said and in the process made himself look even sillier.
People have long speculated as to Garcia’s orientation and he is aware of it. His mannerisms and voice have set off gaydar from the Castro to Chelsea. But as far as I can tell, no reporter ever asked him directly if he was gay. Garcia brought the issue up himself this past February when being interviewed by Matt Maiocco of then Santa Rosa Press-Democrat.
Maiocco was asking the quarterback about Lindsy McLean, the longtime 49ers trainer who had come out as gay in ESPN the Magazine. During the interview, unprompted, Garcia offered up that he was not gay.
“I've heard the rumor myself that I'm gay,” Garcia told Maiocco. "That is not the case. I've had girlfriends in the past and I do want to be married some day. ... Somebody saying it obviously doesn't have any clue as to who I am as a person and, secondly, speaks from a sense of having jealousy for what I've been able to attain as a person and is trying to knock me. Well, they're not knocking me.
"I don't know if it's how I speak or what it is about me that presents that sort of label, but I don't know how many times I have to be out in public with a girlfriend to stop that from being said. Just because an individual in his 30s hasn't found true love and, yes, there are opportunities to date but it also forces you to be more particular. In so many ways, you become more adamant about finding that right person and not allowing yourself to open up to just anybody.”
These are similar to the remarks that he made this week in response to Owens. Both times, he has left me feeling that he doth protest too much. In fact, the Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out that “Garcia's girlfriend, Carmella Decesare, was a high-profile bystander at Browns practice [Aug. 10]. And she just happens to be the 2004 Playboy Playmate of the Year.”
Garcia’s choice of words also frustrates me. What’s so “ridiculous” about being gay? He seems to be offering more of a legal brief, by trotting out girlfriends to serve as a shield and as the ultimate proof of his heterosexuality. I expect him to begin postgame press conferences this season by saying, “As I told my girlfriend before the game …”
He says nothing positive about gay people, despite playing in the gayest city in the country for five years, and says that people who bring up the rumors are simply jealous of his success. His defense clearly implies that he thinks there’s something wrong about being thought gay. Why not simply laugh it off? Or even better, say about Owens' comments: “He wishes.”
When all is said and done, this is once again a depressing media exercise, discussing theoretical gay teammates and dealing with denial. We still don’t have an openly gay NFL player, so this “controversy” is not much to get excited about. But if Owens and Garcia ever kiss and make up, I’ll be all over it.