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Rick’s Cafe: On Roger McDowell, homophobia in sports and creative uses for a baseball bat

Apr 28, 2011, 3:05 PM EDT

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There’s an old saying in the law profession: “When Gloria Allred simulates the gay sex act with a baseball bat, it’s time to concede.” See this photo? It’s a telling metaphor for Roger McDowell, in more ways than he first imagined. It happened on Wednesday, when the Cruella de Vil of civil rights attorneys staged perhaps the most bizarre press conference in the history of Los Angeles, which is saying quite a lot (“… We will now hear a statement from Bubbles the Chimp.”). Not only did Allred’s dog ‘n pony show include the adorable twin daughters of her client, Giants’ fan Justin Quinn, but also a graphic demonstration — with the nine-year-olds sitting right there — of Braves’ pitching coach McDowell simulating a gay sex act with a Louisville Slugger.

And when you woke up on Wednesday you thought the day was going to be dull.

It’s been quite a bad month for homophobes. Kobe Bryant apologized for a gay slur directed at an NBA ref (and, for some reason, dragged innocent teammates into his PSA). In Brazil, a star male volleyball player, Michael, who is gay, was taunted with cries of “Bicha!” (“Fa****!”) during a match. At the following match, cheering supporters brandishing pink thundersticks filled the arena in his support, and a teammate even wore a rainbow-colored jersey in his honor.

Which brings us to the sad story of Roger McDowell. Sad not only because he lost his cool and engaged with the fans, but because he’s apparently lumbering around down on the field completely unaware of the world evolving without him — like that dinosaur that threw out the first pitch at a Memphis Redbirds game.

During batting practice before the Braves-Giants game on Saturday, McDowell got into it with some fans in the bleachers. First McDowell wondered aloud if some of the fans were a gay threesome, then asked if they were “taking it up the a**.” He then made the aforementioned gesture with the bat, which I haven’t seen demonstrated with wood since that butter churning exhibit at Colonial Williamsburg. Unfortunately, all of this was done within earshot of Quinn and his daughters, who then complained to security about the caveman loose on the field.

Fun fact: Quinn tried to get ESPN’s attention with his story, but the Worldwide Leader in Confusing Graphics didn’t return his email. So he got in touch with Allred. Or as I call it, Plan B From Outer Space.

On Wednesday, McDowell offered a (weak) apology. But as editor and sports writer Mark Weinstein tweeted just moments ago: With McDowell, bear in mind we’re talking about a guy who used to set his teammates on fire for laughs: Link.

Indeed. But if McDowell is going to play that game, how does he explain the following? According to Wikipedia, he once wore his pants on his head to protest a “no earrings” policy in the clubhouse. And he was of course the “second spitter on the gravelly road” in that one episode of Seinfeld. The episode, you’ll recall, in which Jerry and Keith Hernandez have a serious bromance.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Which is why it’s always distressing when athletes substitute the words “I hate you” for “You’re gay,” and pass it off as “Heat of the moment” or a joke. We’ve all heard it, whether on the court during pickup basketball or at football practice or at chess club (hey, I went to a tough high school). Some sociologists say that our fear of alternative sexuality stems from our fear of failure, from fathers who put pressure on sons to be “strong and straight,” as Shane said to Joey following the gunfight, and from plain everyday ignorance. But some of the toughest people I know are gay. They have to be to put up with all the prejudice in the world … and to watch the gradual deterioration of Cher.

The heartening aspect of this is when Kobe blurted a homophobic slur on the court, people called him on it. And feeling the pressure of millions of like-minded souls, he felt obliged to be contrite. In Brazil — which in the past has been a notoriously homophobic nation, believe it or not — thousands filled an arena to say that mocking a man for his sexuality was not OK.

I was even surprised at the tone of the message board responses accompanying the McDowell story on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution site. The majority of commenters there condemned the coach, even though he’s one of theirs, and, let’s just say it, lives in the South.

But are the times really a-changin’? Say what you will about Gloria Allred (and you have), but she serves a very useful purpose. She’s a social weather vane with talons. Allred is not going to stage a dog and pony show like she did on Wednesday without knowing public sentiment is behind her and her cause. She knows that Roger McDowell was the second spitter, and she’s wasn’t afraid to say it.

Let us raise our glasses to the prospect of a more enlightened age. But for God’s sake first put down the bat. You’re making me nervous.

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