49ers Should Get Their House in Order
Owners John and Denise DeBartolo York issued statements apologizing for the video, of course, and public relations director Kirk Reynolds, who made the film, was thrown to the wolves.
That doesnít stop anybody from asking two simple questions: Why didnít York take action months ago, when he first learned of the tape, and are we to believe that Reynolds was acting alone in this?
I donít know the answer to the first question, but Iím sure that this goes beyond Reynolds, who is being made the scapegoat. Reynolds undoubtedly crossed the line with this, as heís admitted, but heís been a competent PR man, probably the teamís best since George Huddleston in the early Walsh years, and he doesnít deserve the public crucifixion heís enduring now.
John York has been notorious for being a micro-manager with the 49ers, since he took over direction of the team when Carmen Policy left to become part-owner of the Cleveland Browns. York drove Walsh crazy when he was general manager of the team, with his insistence on controlling everything, down to the number of paper clips. That eased somewhat with the hiring of Peter Harris, but Harris is gone now and York has resumed his micro-managing.
Given that, itís staggering to hear that York supposedly knew nothing of this when Terry Donahue showed him the video just before Donahue was fired. If something like this can be hidden from the owner, what other secrets are being shielded by those lower in the organization?
Reynolds wasnít the only one involved in making the video, of course. There had to be technical people involved, obviously. Even if heíd been trying to keep it secret from everybody else in the organization, which he wasnít, it would have leaked out, at least within the 49er facility.
I think we can take it as a given that others in the building knew, and that a tacit approval, at the least, was given to this video. Yet, the 49ers ownership is trying to give the impression that Reynolds was acting on his own.
In any successful organization, there has to be accountability for errors. When an organization looks for scapegoats rather than accepting blame, you have, well, the Raiders.
THE VIDEO itself was shocking to many whose only connection to professional sports is as observers, but it was not to those of us who deal with professional athletes.
Put bluntly, many professional athletes are caught in a time warp: Whatever their chronological age, their emotional age remains about 19.
Not surprisingly, the 49er players who were contacted defended the film, because they thought it was funny. Some parts were, such as linebacker Julian Peterson supposedly panhandling after heíd turned down a contract offer from the 49ers. Most of it was simply vulgar, and the racist overtones with the buck-toothed Chinese stereotype were alarming.
But again, thatís the playersí mentality. Anybody who has spent time in a locker room knows that many athletes look at women as playthings, nothing more, that they can be frighteningly homophobic and that their humor could charitably be described as sophomoric. You can add racial/social insensitivity to that, which is why they could laugh at the Chinese stereotype.
When women writers first started to come into the dressing room, one Giants pitcher would conduct interviews with them totally naked Ė which he did not do with men reporters.
Much earlier, when I was on a road trip with the Raiders and we were staying in Niagara Falls, some players would lie on their beds naked, to embarrass the maids.
As far as I know, those players didnít do anything with the maids, but they didnít have to. Women flock to athletes. On another road trip with the Raiders, we were staying in East Orange, New Jersey (the next Sundayís game was with the Jets) because, a Raiders official told me, they wanted to keep the players away from women. One night, just before curfew, I was sitting in the hotel lobby, reading. The elevators opened and a group of giggling women got out and headed for the outside stairs. Obviously, they had been told to leave playersí rooms while they were being checked, and they were on their way back up to the rooms.
Players love silly jokes. When the 49ers trained at Rocklin and players rode bikes around the college campus, some players would put othersí bikes in the trees. Tying uniforms in knots is a favorite. So is sneaking up behind a player in a TV interview and making the sign of devilís horns behind his head. As I said, calling their humor sophomoric is generous.
Clearly, professional athletes in general, not just the 49ers, could use diversity training and instruction on treating women with respect, not just as sexual playthings.
FOR THE 49ERS, the lesson goes beyond this, to the dysfunctional organization.
If John York didnít know of this video before Donahue showed it to him, he needs to take a long look at the organizational structure and see what happened.
Though thereís a tendency to think of a pro sports organization as a big operation because of the publicity generated by the team, in fact, relatively few people are involved. It shouldnít be difficult to prevent something like this happening. Saying that it was not intended for public dissemination is no excuse. It should never have been shown to the players.The 49ers need to get their house in order.
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