(This story was published in 2002).

By: Jim Buzinski and Cyd Zeigler Jr.

“I don’t want any faggots on my team.”

Apology or no apology, this sentiment that Garrison Hearst uttered to a reporter doesn’t just go away. Hearst doesn’t want a “faggot” on his team today any more than he did a week ago. To be sure, he’s sorry he said what he said. But, he’s not sorry because it was an insensitive, homophobic remark and he suddenly thinks gay people are OK; he’s sorry because he got called on it.

You could almost write the script: utter an insult, get caught, apologize for causing offense and expect everyone to move on. In Hearst’s case, he’s not fined, suspended, ordered to diversity training or punished in any way.

He’s lucky he only insulted us “faggots.” Imagine if he had insulted dark-skinned foreigners, single mothers and people with AIDS. Wait, we don’t have to imagine. John Rocker did all of the above and baseball came down hard, suspending and fining him.

Hearst, we’re assured by team owner John York, “has a much better understanding about tolerance today than when he made his comments.” Of course, such a sensitive soul as Hearst doesn’t require anything more than a fatherly talk from the guy who signs his checks. Suddenly, we’re to believe, Hearst is ready for a “faggot” on his team.

None of this should be all that surprising. The NFL has been very indulgent of recent homophobic remarks by current and former players, despite all its nice words about being a “meritocracy” and despite having a policy that forbids “epithets, slurs or negative stereotypes.” It has yet to utter a word about Hearst.

Consider these other recent quotes from NFL players, both former and active, that went by with nary a peep from the league:

Leroy Butler, ex-Packer: “…It’s distressing to know that a guy you’re sharing soap with is gay.”

Sterling Sharpe, ex-Packer (regarding former teammate Esera Tuaolo’s coming out): “He would have been eaten alive and he would have been hated for it. Had he come out on a Monday, with Wednesday, Thursday, Friday practices, he’d have never gotten to the other team.”

Jeremy Shockey, Giants tight end of whether there are gay NFL players: “I hope not.”

So what to do about Hearst? We can accept his apology and hope it was sincere. But more needs to be done.

– Should he be fined? Hearst just signed a $20 million contract, so even a $50,000 fine amounts to little more to him than a year’s worth of lap dances.

– Should he be suspended? We’re not sure sitting a game will cause Hearst to want to march with Dykes on Bikes at next year’s pride parade. And if the Niners sit him against Arizona, what would it matter to the team? We could run on Arizona.

– Send him to diversity training? That’s not a bad idea, but it has too much of a New Age, PC-ring to it and can be easily dismissed.

– Trade him to the Bengals? Even we’re not that cruel.

There is one action that would work, and would force Hearst to confront his fears of gay football players. Next April, five teams will be heading to San Francisco to play the second annual Gay Super Bowl. Men from Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles and hometown San Francisco will be battling it out for the right to call themselves the best gay flag football team in the world.

Garrison Hearst should be the head referee.

Officiating the games would be an eye-opener for Hearst. He would see that gay men don’t throw passes with limp wrists; that they don’t prance after a score, at least not any more than the average NFL running back; and that they say “Catch the f—— ball” much more than “you go, girl.”

He would see that gay men have the same passion and competitiveness for the game as he does. Afterwards, Hearst could award the trophy to the winning team. It would be a much anticipated moment, like Pete Rozelle handing Al Davis the Super Bowl trophy in 1984.

If Garrison Hearst really wants to show that he is a changed man, and the Niners want to show their fans that comments like Hearst will be handled with care and thought, they can consider this our very real invitation to prove it.