King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Shorts are bunched up nationwide over a receiver's cellphone celebration, but where is the outrage over a team president using a homophobic slur?

Published December 17, 2003 8:00PM (EST)

Did I miss the outrage over Matt Millen calling Johnny Morton a "faggot"?

Millen, president of the Detroit Lions, cut the veteran wide receiver last year. On Sunday, after Morton's Kansas City Chiefs steamrolled the Lions, Millen tried to congratulate Morton, who told him to "kiss my ass." Millen responded with the slur, twice. On Monday, Millen released a statement that said, in part, "I apologize if I offended anyone. It was certainly not meant to do anything other than express my frustration and disappointment."

There's been plenty of hand-wringing in the commentariat over Saints receiver Joe Horn fishing a cellphone from the goalpost padding and pretending to call home after scoring a touchdown Sunday. Oh, that was the worst thing to happen since Terrell Owens and his Sharpie last year. Or at least since earlier in the day, when Bengals receiver Chad Johnson, penalized often by the league office for uniform violations and touchdown celebrations, reached behind a snowbank after scoring to produce a sign saying, "Dear NFL: Please don't fine me again."

Tongues have been clicked and disgust expressed over the interview that Trail Blazers forward Rasheed Wallace gave to the Oregonian last week, in which he used the N-word liberally to express his opinion that the NBA is a plantation system, exploiting young black men for the enrichment of a white elite.

But Millen's slur has been reported in more-or-less matter-of-fact fashion, along with his weak, textbook non-apology apology that in effect said, "I don't think I did anything wrong, but for those of you so sensitive as to take offense at a harmless thing like that, well, I'm sorry you're so sensitive."

There have been a few condemnations, but for the most part Millen seems to be getting a pass. There isn't the widespread outrage that greeted Jeremy Shockey calling Bill Parcells a "homo" in a magazine interview earlier this year, or his comment on the Howard Stern radio show last year that he wouldn't have tolerated gay teammates in college.

I'm sick down to my last bone of public figures making racist, sexist and homophobic statements and then issuing these lame apologies, as Millen has done. I'm tired of hearing about how the offender has nothing but the greatest respect for gays or blacks or whoever it is he's offended by using the most vile insults available, and it's totally unlike him to use words like that, but it just slipped out in the heat of the moment.

Let's get this straight, shall we? Calling someone a homo and meaning it as an insult doesn't just slip out unless you mean it. It's not an excuse to say you were frustrated and disappointed. Frustration and disappointment don't lead a person to say things he doesn't mean, they just lead him to say things he hadn't meant to say out loud.

Millen's temper, boiling over at Morton's rude rebuke, didn't cause him to lash out in frustration and disappointment and call the receiver a Canadian or a bird-watcher or a Buddhist or an arachnophobe. Why not? Because none of those labels are insulting. None of those are words for things that Millen thinks it's wrong to be. Millen's brain went searching for a word that would fit the bill and it came up with "faggot." It doesn't come up with that word if he doesn't think of that as an appropriate insult. The fact that he remembers to censor himself most of the time doesn't give him a pass not to when he's angry.

I confess I'm stumped by the calculus that seems to determine which sports figures are punished and how severely when they make insulting, stupid, bigoted comments. Sometimes there's an overreaction (Al Campanis, Rush Limbaugh), sometimes an underreaction (Millen, Garrison Hearst), and sometimes it seems just about right (Shockey, Wallace, Dusty Baker), but I don't get why it works out the way it does.

There's good reason to believe Millen's not long for his job because of the team's performance, but that's another story, and I'm glad he isn't going to lose his job over his comments to Morton. The death-penalty condemnation that sometimes comes down on offenders like him always seems to me more a sweeping under the rug of difficult issues than a principled stand.

But while the sports world is busy vilifying Joe Horn for an essentially meaningless end zone stunt and shaking its head at Rasheed Wallace for saying stupid things about a topic it would rather not hear about -- racial imbalance in the NBA, which incidentally deserves to be addressed intelligently -- we should take a moment to demand that Millen do more than just say he's sorry to hear that some of us might be unreasonable enough to take offense when he insults us or people dear to us.

Hearst and Shockey can fall back on the excuse that they're dumb jocks and don't know any better than to speak insultingly, whether they're really dumb or not. But Millen speaks for and leads a whole organization, one with a couple hundred employees, and one that represents a share of the NFL, America's most popular sports league. That league should demand that he apologize again, this time with feeling, and that he take the lead in an effort to make the NFL a friendlier place for gays.

Of the thousands of men who have played in the league, none has ever come out while active, and only three have done so after retirement. That's clear evidence of a hostile work environment for that percentage of players, whatever it is, who are homosexual. A professional sports locker room is an impossible place to be gay, we're always told, as though that were a law of nature. But it's no tougher than a factory floor used to be, or a firehouse, or Congress. Those places changed, partly through education, partly through force of law, and partly because time marched on and they became populated by different people.

There's no reason the NFL can't and shouldn't do the same. The league and its fans should demand of Millen that he make amends by leading a sensitivity training program for players, coaches and administrators. He could call it "Tolerant Eye for the Bigoted Guy."

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