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Monday, June 26, 2006

Guillen speaks: Do we really even care?

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

The men's locker room is where you get your butt snapped with a wet towel. Where names are called, insults hurled, dirty stories told and resounding belches brought up. All without penalty.

It's called "locker room humor" for a reason. It is the last refuge of what a clever TV commercial calls "man law," where indignities, slurs and various disparagements are as constitutionally protected as the practice of religion in Old St. Pat's. It is the male safety valve, as effective as a woman's gentle touch in an anxious moment. It is crude, ribald, sweaty, smelly and possessed of all the ambiance of a jockstrap hung out to dry.

By logical and lawful extension, the locker room includes the courtside bench, sidelines and, in baseball, the dugout, where White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen recently committed the capital offense of disparaging a local sports columnist by calling him a name that insults gays.

It has caused pandemonium. News stories have flashed around the world, describing his breach. Columnists and talk-show hosts issued condemnations. Activists and the targeted columnist--Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times--have called for Guillen's suspension, or worse. (Garroting has yet to come.) Of course, Mariotti has not noticed the irony of someone who has set world records for offending (that would be Mariotti) insisting that someone else should be removed, even temporarily, from his job for offending.

Losing a job for exercising a constitutionally protected right is a sanction that Guillen, and even Mariotti, should not suffer. But it appears that Major League Baseball has decided to succumb to the long arm of the "feelings" police. We now can truly say that no place is shielded from Big Brother's eyes and ears. We now, as a society, have become touchy beyond measure.

Nevermind the hypocrisy of it all. Up pops Rick Garcia of Equality Illinois (as his business plan requires) calling for "appropriate sanctions," including suspension for using the word. Here's someone who hurls his own insults, for example, by calling Cardinal Francis George a "bigot" and classifies those who disagree with him as "homophobes." Nevermind that Mariotti himself is one of the town's biggest name-callers.

True, Guillen could have called Mariotti something else; Guillen had so many fitting and accurate pejoratives to choose from. Also true, if Guillen had used any of those other pejoratives, sportswriters probably wouldn't have made much of it, because, charitably put, Mariotti is not the best loved by his colleagues.

Which brings up a question: Sportswriters unfailingly mention Guillen's penchant for using salty language. But much of that language never appears in print or on the air. So, why publish this one? No, seriously. Why publish one offensive thing and not publish another? Is there a hierarchy-of-insult list that someone keeps? Say "blah" and it gets on the news, but say "blah-blah" and it doesn't?

Actually, I've never understood how sportswriters work anyway. They're blessed by the fact that they've got plenty of drama to describe, right there on the field or court of play. All they have to do is show up at the assigned time. Usually with the benefit of preferred parking and preferred seats.

So, then, why is so much time spent describing the "action" in the locker room? And gathering post-game quotes? As I've said before, if the locker room action was more interesting than the on-field play, then viewers would be clamoring for more TV cameras in the locker rooms. We might even dispense with live TV coverage of the action.

Even more, this entire uproar occurred as the White Sox were clobbering one of the best teams in baseball, the team that was supposed to meet them in last year's World Series. That's enough excitement for me, and I bet if you asked most Chicagoans, it would be for them too. Most Chicagoans, I bet, would say that all this fighting over what Guillen can or cannot say sounds too much like manufactured news.

It's almost as if the White Sox had created a news vacuum by winning, and something stupid like this controversy had to be rushed in to fill it.

Copyright 2006, Chicago Tribune


Anonymous said...

Agree with you 100% on this one. Although I think you know the answer, here's why I think this one incident was reported.

Ozzie's usual tirades are mostly made up of pretty pedestrian stuff - f bombs and s bombs, often put together - that aren't really newsworthy. This one had all the makings for a media hype: a non-PC slur against a person most everybody loves to hate. It was then fanned by Mariotti's shameless and pathetic play as victim. Even the New York Times has a story at the top of today's "Sports Monday" section.

In a sane world, Ozzie would have said it was an unfortunate word choice with no offense meant. Mariotti would have said, o.k., I'm a big boy and let's forget about it. Instead, it ended up there with the endless type of coverage for Nick and Jessica, Brad and Jennifer, and the rest of the crap that passes for reportage. Thanks for injecting a bit of sanity into the discussion.

As an aside, I wrote Mariotti in April 2005 after another column criticizing the Sox - he said they'd miss Carlos Lee, that it was time to give up on Joe Crede, they were stupid not to resign Magglio Ordonez - and told him that Ozzie was doing a better job managing than he was writing his column. I also told him I was going to see a World Series on the South Side that year. His reply was simple: "I'm the best columnist in the world. Ozzie needs to get to the playoffs." I wrote him back, "You're half right"; I never heard back.

Fuller Schettman said...

Kudos to you! This is by far the most clear-headed piece written on this entire farce of a controversy.

Thanks for injecting some common sense into the discussion. Too bad that the lead is buried...

A longtime Sox fan,
Livermore, CA

Dennis Byrne said...

Some readers have pointed out that there's no constitutional right to speak enforceable against a private employer. It's only enforceable against the government.

That's quite right, and I've now joined the many people who have made that mistake. We'll have to keep that in mind the next time that folks go crazy because the Boy Scouts, or some other private sector organization, constrains the speech of leaders who fail to share that organization's values.