(This story was published in 2006).

ESPNU commentator Brian Kinchen has been suspended for saying that one of his own comments was “kinda gay” during the network’s broadcast last weekend of the Northern Illinois-Iowa football game.

The comment came in the first quarter, with Iowa leading, 7-0. A pass from NIU quarterback Phil Horvath was thrown slightly behind a receiver who failed to catch the ball. Kinchen, a tight end in the NFL from 1988 to 2000, was observing that the receiver should have tried to catch the ball with his hands, not his body.

“Your hands are, are, tender and they can move and caress the ball,” Kinchen said. “That’s kinda, that’s kinda gay, but hey.”

For that comment, Kinchen has been relieved of his commentating duties this weekend and, according to ESPN Vice President of Public Relations Josh Krulewitz, his future with ESPN is under review.

“The comments were inappropriate and we apologize,” Krulewitz said. “He will not appear on the air this weekend, and his future appearances are in question.”

For his part, Kinchen says he knows he made a mistake.

“I sincerely apologize for my extremely poor choice of words,” Kinchen said in a statement through Krulewitz. “They were completely inappropriate and not at all a reflection of who I am or of the way I perform when I work. I have learned from my mistake and look forward to continuing my broadcasting career.”

It’s a pretty bold move for ESPN to suspend Kinchen. Many athletes have made far worse comments than Kinchen’s and have not been suspended by their team or their league (John Rocker being the rare exception).

For me, the punishment simply doesn’t befit the crime. What he said was not remotely offensive or insensitive, and it just doesn’t seem to be something someone should be suspended, let alone terminated, for. Kinchen was making a joke, the same joke I hear in my football league from gay guys every week. Hell, he was saying his own comment was gay!

Saying that caressing the ball sounds gay may be a little sophomoric, but that’s where much of mass communication is now headed. On Sirius Radio, which broadcasts the NFL Radio Network and ESPN Radio, Howard Stern and his cast of characters make the same joke every 10 minutes. True, Howard Stern and ESPN are two different brands with two different standards, and I can appreciate that. But, regardless of the context, Kinchen’s comments simply weren’t bad.

With all that being said, and while I don’t think the remark should have gotten someone suspended, I also understand why ESPN has taken action. The worldwide leader in sports has a growing track record of being incredibly gay-friendly, and the comment probably 1) didn’t sit well with some executives and 2) kind of made them afraid of the knee-jerk reaction so many gay people have now anytime a straight person even utters the word “gay.” It’s too bad that the gay community has driven companies, including gay-friendly ones like ESPN, to be even more sensitive than we at Outsports are.

Some good will come of this. It will force Kinchen to refine his commentary a bit. He’ll become more conscious of every word he utters, which will make him a better TV personality. Hopefully, ESPN won’t decide to sever their relationship with Kinchen because he dropped the ball with a sophomoric comment.

Even if it was pretty gay.