|by Jim Provezano
|Training Daze: 49ers Video Is an Equal Opportunity Offender
When it comes to homophobia in athletics, teams in the National Football League (NFL) remain among the most problematic. The slight progress made by the San Francisco 49ers recently took a giant leap backward when a bawdy video made by Kirk Reynolds, their public relations director, made national headlines.
Reynolds, who also performed in the video impersonating San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, said his intentions were good. He resigned on June 1, the day the video became news and was shown on the San Francisco Chronicle's website.
The videowhich featured racial stereotypes and a staged lesbian wedding including topless strippershas outraged representatives from the Asian-American and GLBT communities, among others.
Reynolds states in the video, "As you guys learned in diversity training, people have diverse lifestyles. You may know someone or have a family member with a diverse lifestyle. So embrace diversityembrace it." The topless women then proceed to hug and kiss.
Mayor Newsom, whose offices were used for a portion of the video (under the false impression that it was for an inoffensive diversity training video), told Fox affiliate KTVU, "It wasn't right to do it to the Asian community, particularly the Chinese community. It was wrong to do it to the gay and lesbian community. It was wrong to exploit women as they were exploited in this video. The video is reprehensible."
49ers owners Denise and John York issued an apology on their website. "The content of this training material was never cleared by any officer of this organization and is absolutely contradictory to the ideals and values of the San Francisco 49ers. [We] have zero tolerance for anything that ridicules this city or any segment of the population, or for anything that creates an environment that anyone could find harassing, embarrassing, or uncomfortable."
Lindsy McLean, the former head trainer for the 49ers, who came out after retiring, suffered taunts from several players during his 24 years working for the team. But McLean says the uproar over the video is overblown.
"Kirk Reynolds does not have a homophobic bone in his body," says McLean, who credits Reynolds with deftly handling McLean's coming out to the media. "I am sorry about the video, but the intent was to promote diversity, not make fun of it. Someone hated Kirk to send such a video to the Chronicle."
McLean says his former employers were an exception to the homophobia in pro football. "I feel the 49ers, mainly due to Kirk, are more tolerant of diversity than any other organization in sports. It is truly a shame."
Despite his apologies, Reynolds added in interviews that he feels racial and sexual stereotypes are sometimes permissible. "I didn't make this for public consumption," he told the Chronicle. "The ideas of the tape are appropriate for the locker room, though some of the subjects were inappropriate for the values of this organization, and mine frankly."
Thom Lynch, executive director of the San Francisco GLBT Community Center, issued a June 1 press announcement decrying the video's content and Reynolds' excusesparticularly that it was a media training video for players only.
"It is the third recent incident in which severe problems in the corporate culture of the San Francisco 49ers are demonstrated: discrimination and homophobia," Lynch wrote. "The video is demeaning to women, to the Asian and Pacific Islander community and to the entire Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community."
Lynch, whose previous complaints about the 49ers resulted in a $5,000 donation to the Center from the football team, demanded that the 49ers "visibly connect themselves to the communities they attacked." York responded by scheduling a June 4 open meeting with the public at the Center.
More than 50 members of Asian-American, GLBT, and local branches of national human rights groups listened to York and Ed Goines, the 49ers' vice president and general counsel, respond to questions. Reynolds read a prepared apology, but left before hearing the community responses.
The 49ers have a checkered history with their players and GLBT fans. David Kopay played for them from 1964 to 1967,
10 years before being the first former pro player to come out. Kopay was honored along with other 49ers alumni at a 2003 halftime ceremony.
In the 49ers' heyday, when the team won its second of five Super Bowls in 1985, near-riots broke out in San Francisco. Newspapers at the time recounted the predominantly gay Castro district as a safe haven for street celebrations, due in part to the 49ers' many GLBT fans.
In recent years, rumors about the homosexuality of a few players have persisted, particularly with former quarterback Jeff Garcia, who left the team in 2003. Terrell Owens, another former player, made homophobic comments about Garcia. But it was Hearst's 2002 comments that led to the demands for diversity training.
The 49ers became the first NFL franchise to include sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination employment policy. They also added domestic partnership benefits for employees.
Heather Deutsch, commissioner of the San Francisco Women's Flag Football Leagueand a player and out lesbiansays, "If the intention of the video was to be a joke, I do not understand why you would make the city that hosts you, and the people that support you, the butt of such an insensitive gesture. I think the 49er franchise will feel the fallout of this incident for a long time."
The saddest result of the scandal is that the NFL team often considered a pioneer in tolerance and attention to homophobia and racism has been reduced to a laughingstock.
"What you do is not only a reflection of yourself. It's a reflection of the San Francisco 49ers," said Reynolds in the now-infamous tape.
If he hadn't said it while wearing just a toweland surrounded by topless strippersit might have meant something.
Jim Provenzano is the author of the novels "PINS" and "Monkey Suits." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 7 June 17, 2005