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Like Terrell Owens' boy tells him: If it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, by golly, it is a rat.
And as my boy -- he's five years old, but he's very evolved when it comes to all matters sociological -- would like to add, and I paraphrase: Who gives a rat's ... what Terrell Owens thinks about Jeff Garcia's sexuality?
We all knew Owens could run an 'out' pattern, but what he did in the September issue of Playboy was an out-and-out example of unsportsmanlike conduct. Asked by an interviewer what he thought about Garcia having "denied media rumors he's gay," Owens responded by giving his little rodent analogy. He might as well have added, "Jeff's here, he's queer, get used to it." Owens's subsequent backpedaling -- "It wasn't like I came out and said Jeff was gay" -- was even more offensive, at least to those who believe in the sanctity of logic.
I happen to be one of those people in the media who likes Owens, and I've been defending him for years for offenses that were vastly overblown by many of my peers. When he danced on the Cowboys' star at Texas Stadium in 2000, I found it silly that everyone got so worked up about the desecration of a team logo. The Sharpie stunt in '02? In my book, an inventive goof on the autograph craze, and one that earned him an endorsement to boot.
Though many of his 49ers teammates tried to convince me otherwise, I came to view Owens as a passionate player whose obvious need for attention was a relatively harmless byproduct of his competitiveness. Most of all, I've enjoyed him for his willingness to speak his mind without fear of public rebuke.
Then again, I feel the same way about Garcia, a gutsy player who fought his way into the league and earned his stardom through improvisational brilliance under pressure. Garcia has never shied away from voicing controversial opinions. That he was forced on Wednesday to answer what he termed "ridiculous, untrue comments" made by his former teammate seems especially cruel.
Far be it for me to advocate censorship on either side of the journalistic equation, but the printed exchange between the Playboy interviewer and Owens reeks of gutlessness. To me, it's journalistically irresponsible to ask one player about another's sexuality and then print his inflammatory insinuation without even involving the other party. As for Owens, the second he was asked the question, T.O. should've called "T.O." and declined to get involved.
It really doesn't matter whether Garcia is straight, gay, bi or 'a.' It's none of Owens' business -- or Playboy's, for that matter -- unless Garcia himself chooses to discuss it. And while there have been brave athletes like Martina Navratilova who have come out of the closet, the machismo-drenched world of pro football would be a scary place to emerge as a pioneer.
Didn't Playmakers teach us anything?
Submit a question for Michael Silver.
If you examine the larger context, Owens' comment was even more preposterous. Didn't he and Garcia play in San Francisco, home of the Castro district and, earlier this year, hundreds of gay-marriage ceremonies that drove a certain Governator batty? Didn't the 49ers' longtime trainer, Lindsy McLean, speak to ESPN the Magazine about his homosexuality shortly after retiring a couple of years back? Didn't ex-Niners halfback Garrison Hearst --a man whose career McLean helped salvage -- make news a few years ago by using a certain F-word slur to describe gay males, insisting he had no desire to play on the same team as one?
Or how about the story of another former Bay Area athlete, Mark Bingham, which came to our attention less than three years ago? Bingham, a standout for Cal's national championship rugby team in the early '90s, was aboard Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001 as suicide bombers veered the jumbo jet toward the nation's capital. Along with some of his fellow passengers, Bingham made the decision to try to keep the plane from reaching its target -- by any means necessary.
That is what a hero does. In this case, it was also what a gay man did.
Right now, I fear Bingham is rolling over in his grave. I see a president using 9/11 for political purposes while attempting to enact laws denying gays the right to marry. I hear a talented receiver giving opinions about a talented quarterback's activities away from the field, and I hear the quarterback having to deny something that is none of anyone's business.
I also find myself wishing someone in the NFL would come out and say, true or otherwise, "Yeah, I'm gay. I'm gay like Mark Bingham and Martina Navratilova and a lot of other people I'm proud to call Americans, and if you've got a problem with it, that says something about YOU."
If a football player ever comes to me with a sentiment like that on his mind, I'll be happy to print his words -- and that's the only way I'll ever feel compelled to write about another person's sexuality.
In the meantime, I hope all the gay players in the NFL -- and statistically, there's probably at least one on the Eagles -- understand that some of us, and our boys, don't care who is gay and who is not.
And, by golly, I hope the gay defensive back who happens to converge on Owens as the wideout reaches for a high pass across the middle exercises more restraint than T.O. or Playboy did during their interview.
I must admit I, too, once confronted Garcia with a wild rumor I'd heard, and one which turned out not to be true: "So," I asked him a few years ago, "is it true you're Jerry's cousin?" Just goes to show, you don't ever know. ...
The Olympic soccer tournament got underway Wednesday, and let me get this straight: While the U.S. was scoring a 3-0 victory over feeble Greece, a team comprised largely of American high school scrubs who once ate souvlaki, defending World Cup champion Germany was giving highly regarded China an absurd 8-0 drubbing ... and Brandi Chastain, one of the U.S.' shrewdest and most creative players, is on the bench?
Welcome to Dodge
Keenan McCardell, meet Sheriff Jon Gruden --and enjoy that holdout. The Bucs may need you, but it means more to Gruden to win his first major battle as the man in charge than to address his shortcomings at the wideout position.
Is it the chlorine?
After watching a recent episode of the hilarious Da Ali G Show on HBO, I'm heartened to know that former Olympic swimming champion and NBC announcer John Naber agrees that athletes who use recreational drugs should be given a head start in their races. I've also resolved to avoid country-and-western bars in Tucson, especially those that serve well drinks.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Silver sounds off weekly on SI.com.