(This story was published in 2005).
The first thing I thought of when I heard about the now-infamous San Francisco 49ers training video was, “here we go again.”
It wasn’t the homophobia in sports I was referring to; it was the reaction that I was, it now seems correctly, predicting.
In trying to teach incoming players how to handle the media and be sensitive to diversity, people in the 49ers front office created a “training video” that featured an overtly stereotypical Chinese man, two lesbians stripping and making out before getting married, and the “alleged” mayor of San Francisco (played by now-former Niners PR man Kirk Reynolds) accepting bribes, swearing at constituents and getting naked with three hot, topless women. And, of course, the video ended up in the hands of the media.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. Probably the worst decision anyone on the San Francisco 49ers has made since … well, come to think of it, they’ve made a lot of stupid decisions lately. I guess this was just par for the course.
Par for the course in these things is also “gay community leaders” voicing outrage, condemning everyone and everything associated with the video and demanding face-to-face meetings with the perpetrators. This incident is no different.
As if on cue, you had Thom Lynch, president of the SF LGBT Center, telling the Associated Press that the 49ers benefit from the city, "but they have responded by belittling and ridiculing the diversity of the city," and demanding that team officials meet with gay leaders of the city.
An Outsports reader went so far as to write a letter to the media demanding that the San Francisco 49ers change their name to the Santa Clara 49ers, because they didn’t deserve to have their name associated with the great city of San Francisco.
To me, what this kind of over-reaction fails to recognize is that the San Francisco 49ers are one of the most gay-positive professional sports teams in America. As with any organization, you have some stupid people doing stupid things, like then-Niners-running back Garrison Hearst’s comments three years ago that he didn’t want “faggots” in the locker room.
However, the Niners are the only NFL team on record as offering its employees domestic partner benefits (and, a team official told me in 2003, at least one person has benefited from them). The 49ers also do sensitivity training around the topic of homosexuality. And, new head coach Mike Nolan told the AP, they do a lot of it. If it was just about any other team in the NFL, I’d really raise an eyebrow. But, these are the San Francisco 49ers; they deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Plus, team owners Denise and John York immediately issued a release condemning the video. By all accounts, they had not seen it until very recently.
“The video is offensive in every manner,” their statement read. “We deeply regret that anyone from our organization would produce such senseless, inexcusable material. A thorough investigation of this issue has been ongoing for some time, and actions and disciplines have been taken. Policies are being put into place to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. The individuals responsible for producing the video have left or are leaving our employment.”
The NFL, for their part, also attacked the video in a statement: "We share [the Yorks'] view that the video was inappropriate, offensive in every respect, and of no value whatsoever." Reynolds himself has unequivocally apologized, offering no excuse for the video.
I’ve gotta say, I chuckled at the video a couple times (I saw it in eight segments on the San Francisco Chronicle Web site); but, most of the video is just plain dumb. When two “lesbians” getting married prove their love to the alleged mayor by stripping, falling to the floor, groping one another and making out, I was left remembering that this is why I’m gay.
But, I wasn’t the target audience – the guys in that locker room were. I was never supposed to see that video; none of us were. Niners cornerback Mike Rumph told the Chronicle, “I thought it was one of the funniest things I ever saw.” Other players have defended the video to the media. While it was still totally stupid, and the actual execution of the video was on par with America’s Funniest Home Videos, I guess they hit the mark.
As I was watching it, in anticipation of the bloody murder that many gay people would scream upon hearing about the video, I thought about the many skits on Saturday Night Live, and how it seemed some entire episodes were dedicated to making fun of gay people. And I thought about Mad TV and their endless skits featuring Korean actor Bobby Lee being, as one of their skits is named, an “Average Asian.”
I haven’t heard about “outrage” over Saturday Night Live lately, except that it’s just about the worst-written show on television.
Thankfully, we have people like the National Center for Lesbian Right’s Sports Project Coordinator Helen Carroll. Instead of rushing out to condemn the 49ers, she immediately reached out to them, thanking them for their heartfelt apology and offering “to help you implement your commitment to expand your efforts to promote diversity and understanding and your stated goal to "promote diversity and understanding of all lifestyles and viewpoints."
If only more “gay community leaders” would extend a hand, rather than slapping one, we might see a lot more progress on these issues a lot faster.