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A disgusting display

Owens' comments are ugly, but lack of reaction from Eagles, NFL is bad

Posted: Thursday August 12, 2004 1:26PM; Updated: Friday August 13, 2004 11:16AM
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The Blog never has thought much of Jeff Garcia, for no real fault of his own. Oh, Garcia's always been nice enough -- thoughtful when asked a question, decent and respectful, even after a loss. But let's face it: to follow Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young in San Francisco was to drown in their collective legacy. If you led the great 49ers to a mere 39-41 record over the past five years, even while throwing for 16,408 yards and 113 touchdowns (versus just 56 interceptions) -- as Garcia did before he left for Cleveland this offseason -- you paled in comparison. During his stay by the Bay, Garcia was a Pro Bowl quarterback, but he never seemed to be quite good enough.

And it wasn't just his comparative ordinariness. After all, The Blog's a native Angeleno, and if you were a true L.A. football fan back in the early 1980s -- and not a lazy, L.A. Raiders-loving turncoat -- you lived for the Rams. As such, you hated the 49ers with a passion that burned like the fiery pits of Hell, pretty much because, twice a year, the 49ers became increasingly dynastic at the expense of Vince Ferragamo and Eric Dickerson (and Dieter Brock, though that's sort of understandable). For such affronts, you hated Montana, and when he left for K.C., you hated Young just the same. So when Garcia came out of nowhere (O.K., the CFL) to take Young's place, he -- humble and non-threatening as he was -- never had a chance.

But he does now.

Two days ago, we first heard of the interview with Garcia's former 49ers teammate (and new Eagles wideout) Terrell Owens, in the September issue of Playboy, in which Owens implies that Garcia is gay. When asked about Garcia's sexual orientation, Owens was quoted as saying, "Like my boy tells me: If it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, by golly, it is a rat." Then, when asked how he'd react to an openly gay teammate, he said: "I'd see what everyone else had to say. I'd keep my distance, and hopefully, he'd keep his." Even for the volatile, self-obsessed and often-infantile Owens, the comments were mind-bogglingly ignorant.

Because The Blog doesn't know where to begin -- and frankly, wouldn't know when to end -- please forgive this headlong dive into fury. It's not just that Owens' comments are a disgusting abuse of this country's primal notion of free speech, or that he'd willfully exploit the blind idol worship he enjoys as an elite NFL player to spew such garbage. Nor is it that he shamefully slurred an innocent former teammate, nor that he then cowardly turned tail afterward, deflating the story just enough to assuage the media herd while never backing away from the comments. (His defense that he never "actually said [Garcia] is gay" during his "loose" interview was particularly galling.) If this was just the latest example of Owens' petulance and immaturity, it would still be appallingly bad.

But yesterday, the ugly mess became unforgivable. That, of course, was when Garcia was forced to face questions about his prickly relationship with the receiver whose career he helped to make, and then about the interview itself, and then, sadly, about his sexual orientation, as if it was anybody else's freaking business. As if it matters. As if we need to hear him deny something. According to The Associated Press, Garcia "noted that it has been reported that he has a girlfriend and has had girlfriends in the past." Said Garcia: "So many people know my situation here. It has never been a secret."

Must be fun being Garcia right now, going to a new team and a new city, trying to emerge as the leader the sad sack Cleveland Browns desperately need, and feeling compelled -- before your first official snap -- to swear that you've bedded women by the boatload. After all, if he attempts to walk the perilous high road and simply ignore his former teammate's comments, he risks polarizing similarly ignorant teammates, who've unfortunately matriculated in the hyper-hetero, "don't ask, don't tell ... and you won't get killed" world of pro football. How sad that the embarrassing protocol of such situations remains dubiously similar to those of The Blog's first encounter with misguided, hateful smears -- during a recess period in second grade.

Indeed, it'd be nice to think Owens' bile was his alone, separate from a criticized society made up of folks evolved enough to know enough to keep our pathetic phobias to ourselves. It'd be better still to believe Owens' acidic comments were a mistake, that as a player who came of age playing in front of (and being thus being paid by) untold numbers of Niner-adoring gay men and women in San Francisco, Owens understood the devastating power such homophobic rants can wield. Surely he knew better. Surely he cared. But now, it appears he never will. And with his smirking non-acknowledgement afterward, Owens essentially was vomiting his filth anew. All that was missing was a sly wink, or a telling nudge.

Not that the shame is Owens' to bare alone. The silence of the league, the players' association, Garcia's new teammates and especially his stand-up new head coach, Butch Davis (whose job is Garcia's to save), has been deafening. But most disappointing has been the reaction, or lack thereof, in Owens' new world. Eagles head coach Andy Reid tried to douse the fire by noting that he doesn't read Playboy, a non-sensical non sequitur trumped only by his attempt to qualify Owens' statements by saying that "some of these things were said a while back and they're just coming out now."

It was a marked departure from the M.O. of the usually forward-thinking Reid, who throughout his six-year tenure has promoted the importance of "character guys" in his locker room, whose legacy thus far has been taking the Eagles to three straight NFC Championship games with players who wouldn't have been caught dead embarrassing the organization as Owens did. Surely Reid would squelch such public insolence with a suspension, or at the very least, a stern censure. When nothing of the kind followed, The Blog was reminded of the only thing that seems to matter in Philly these days: that the Eagles -- losers of all three of those title games -- not lose a fourth.

No matter how this plays out (or, worse yet, just disappears), The Blog will remain heartsick. Because as a boy, The Blog's love for all things Rams was stoked by a father who, quite frankly, didn't care all that much about sports. But because his kid learned to read over a bowl of Grape-Nuts and Jim Murray's latest gem, learned math while synthesizing the wondrous statistics of Magic and Kareem, Steve Garvey and Dickerson, Charles Elliott indulged his son's obsession with sports. He even took his kid to the occasional game, bored to tears though he was, and turned an especially blind eye to all the wasted autumn Sundays of the kid's youth, even when those damn Niners were making his kid cry twice a year.

When The Blog was 13, his father found the courage to tell him that he and the kid's mother were amicably divorcing because he had a secret he just couldn't keep anymore. Thank god Charles Elliott got to live the last two years of his life out and proud, before a heart attack took him in 1986. And too bad he wasn't around for a former Niners quarterback he finally could've appreciated. Because from here on out, his kid will. ...

And finally, I beg all of you to please, please, PLEASE, not sleep on the singular genius that is Da Ali G Show, currently airing at 10:30 p.m. on -- where else? -- HBO. (Can anyone tell The Blog what we watched on Sunday nights before this channel redefined the boob-tube experience?) The three doofus-savant journos played by British comic Sacha Baron Cohen are so pitch-perfect in their satirical dopiness -- as they bring the pain to such luminaries as Pat Buchanan, Sam Donaldson and a bevy of lesser-known dupes -- that The Blog feels simultaneously ashamed and electrified to be share the trio's profession.

Now if only Ali can nab a sitdown with T.O....