(This story was published in 2004).

Tony Siragusa is a big fat idiot.

That’s the only conclusion to be reached after the ex-NFL defensive lineman and now Fox sideline reporter mocked Detroit Lions quarterback Joey Harrington by suggesting that Harrington was somehow less than the kind of man who should be playing football. “Harrington is gay” is certainly one inference to be drawn from Siragusa’s comments.

The dustup occurred after this exchange between Siragusa and Fox play-by-play announcer Dick Stockton and analyst Darryl “Moose” Johnston, calling Sunday’s Philadelphia Eagles at Lions game:

“[Harrington] seemed a little different than what I expected,” Siragusa said of their pregame meeting. “I thought he was a little bit too overconfident. … Just a different kind of guy. Not a meat-and-potato guy but a very sophisticated man. That’s as much as I can go into right now.”

Johnston: “More champagne and caviar than meat and potatoes?”

Siragusa: “Yeah, I wouldn’t see him going out and ordering a beer any time soon to tell you the truth.”

Stockton: “In other words, he may not be your kind of guy, Goose?”

Siragusa: “He’s the kind of guy that’s on the other side of the club than I am. He’s over there with the champagne and caviar. And also the strawberries and chocolate, you know?”

Stockton: “We get the idea.”

Siragusa’s rather inane comments (“sophisticated” is a bad thing?) caused a bit of a firestorm in the Detroit media. Some said they thought the implication was that Harrington is gay. Others said they thought it implied Harrington was an elitist, a theme echoed by Detroit News columnist Terry Foster. Whatever, Harrington fired back at Siragusa:

“Why am I not his kind of guy? Because I was cordial in a production meeting? Because I tried to be articulate? Because I smile when I play? Because I enjoy myself out there? Because I’m not a ‘Billy Badass?’ ” Harrington said.

“I was raised a certain way. I was raised to be polite, to look someone in the eye and when they ask you a question, you answer it. If he’s got a problem with the way I play then go ahead and say it. But if he looks at how I play, I don’t think he’d be making those comments. If he looks at how I work I don’t think he’d be making those comments. If he came to the parking lot and checked to see who’s car was the last one out of here everyday I don’t think he’d be making those comments. It must be nice playing in front of the best linebacker in the history of the game isn’t it?”

This last sentence was a reference at Siragusa having been part of the 2000 Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens team anchored by the great middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

An unapologetic Siragusa refused to speak with the media to explain himself, but had Fox issue a statement on his behalf: “I think the situation’s been blown way out of proportion, and it is unfortunate that people are reading way more into this than I actually said,” Siragusa said. “I have nothing personal against Joey Harrington. He is a great athlete, and I respect him as a player.

“I just stated that if I was going to start a team he wouldn’t be one of the players I would select. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s just my opinion, and that’s what I get paid to do on the sideline. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that may think that I’m not their kind of guy, and that’s OK because it’s their opinion. I think it’s important to remember that when you have an opinion about a player — even if it’s negative — it’s not a personal slight.”

I’ve always been impressed by Harrington, going back to his days at the University of Oregon. He comes across as very articulate yet a bit quirky, a terrific piano player who seemed well-mannered and yet has what it takes to play the most difficult position in football. But for Neanderthals like Siragusa, only those who act like drunken louts are “real men.”

Whether or not he was implying that Harrington is gay, Siragusa nonetheless pushed the stereotype of what an athlete can and cannot be, a prejudice all of us have to get over. My gut tells me that the Siragusa’s of the world are becoming an endangered species, even in the macho world of sports.

It took my Outsports colleague Brent Mullins to put this into proper perspective, showing how out of touch Siragusa is in 2004 — women would much prefer men like Joey over men like Tony.

“Siragusa needs to realize that scoring with the ladies is greatly increased once you pop the bubbly. Siragusa is left at the Regent Beverly Wilshire, waiting for his hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold to come along and take his cash, believing that to live in the ‘Pretty Woman’ past is his best shot at an exciting present.

“Meanwhile, Joey is having to beat them off with a stick while he serenades hot girls on top of his grand piano, Fabulous Baker Brother’s style.”