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Wednesday, May 22, 2002
Updated: May 23, 10:19 AM ET
Matthews posts disputed column on Internet

ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Wallace Matthews, a noted New York Post sports columnist who wrote a column critical of the newspaper for reporting a rumor that caused Mets catcher Mike Piazza to proclaim that he's heterosexual on Tuesday, says he's no longer writing for the newspaper after it refused to run the column.

"I'm through with them, but I'm not sure if they're through with me," Matthews told ESPN Radio on Wednesday.

Matthews didn't say he'd quit or if he'd been fired. He posted his column on the message board of the Web site SportsJournalists.com at 9:59 a.m. ET. He says the newspaper refused to run the column, but said it reconsidered and would run the story on Thursday.

The Post later Wednesday fired Matthews, citing "insubordination."

"In light of Matthews' derogatory comments and insubordination, Post management felt it was no longer appropriate for him to continue in the paper's employ,'' the release said.

Matthews wrote on SportsJournalists.com that it was "abhorrent'' the paper ran the item about a player. The Post had refused to run the column without editing changes.

Matthews said, "I always knew the paper had no integrity,'' according to a posting introducing the column.

He told ESPN Radio that the rumor about Piazza, which is unsubstantiated, wouldn't have run in the sports section of the newspaper. He called the decision to hold his column "hypocritical."

Matthews was indignant over the Post gossip item, written by Neal Travis, which said that "there is a persistent rumor around town that one Mets star who spends a lot of time with pretty models in clubs is actually gay and has started to think about declaring his sexual orientation.''

It came in response to a quote from Mets manager Bobby Valentine in the June/July issue of Details, not yet on newsstands, where Valentine said baseball is "probably ready for an openly gay player.''

"The players are a diverse enough group now that I think they could handle it,'' he said.

Piazza met with the media on Tuesday night in Philadelphia, saying: "I'm not gay. I'm heterosexual ... I can't control what people think. I date women."

Wrote Matthews in response:

"Valentine's comments to Details sparked an irresponsible 'blind' item in Monday's Post, in which a gossip columnist reprinted a scurrilous rumor concerning an unnamed Met.

"The gossip columnist then acknowledged he was unable to substantiate any part of the rumor.

"He printed it anyway.

"The Mets' reaction, and Piazza's statements avowing his heterosexuality, were in direct response to that item.

"But in truth, there was no reason to respond to the item and even less reason to print it."

Matthews contended that what a player does off the field isn't fair game unless it affects his performance.

"Aside from criminality, the only time a player's personal life becomes an issue is when it can be shown to be affecting his performance on the field.

"Even then, it is best to tread lightly, lest someone come peering into your windows next.

"That is why the kind of journalism' perpetrated in Monday's Post is abhorrent. As are the McCarthy-like tactics of homosexual groups that deliberately out celebrities and athletes under the premise of exposing hypocrisy.

"Doesn't anyone understand the meaning of privacy or modesty or discretion anymore?

"Perhaps Piazza, who is probably the most approachable and accommodating athlete at his level in any sport, felt it was best to lay the story to rest by addressing it head on.

"Maybe the Mets, worried about negative publicity and a renewed whispering campaign, put Piazza up to it. If so, they committed an unspeakable injustice to a good guy.

"Either way, it demonstrates that we all have a long way to go before we are truly ready to accept people for what they are.

"Judging by the feeding frenzy that greeted Piazza last night at the Vet, it seems that the first openly gay male athlete, whoever it happens to be, will face the kind of abuse no athlete has faced since Jackie Robinson wiped out the color line in 1947.

"In fact, it may even be worse. Robinson mainly had to worry about white racists.

"Whoever chooses to come out will likely face homophobia that crosses into every race, creed, color and ethnic group.

"It will take a person of incredible courage and resilience to make such a stand. It is not the kind of thing that should be forced upon anyone.

"And clearly, it is not the kind of thing enough people in this country are ready to accept.

"If it were, Mike Piazza would have only talked about baseball last night."

Matthews told ESPN Radio that his position with the newspaper remains uncertain, but: "All I know is that I told them I was done writing for them."

Asked if he'd go back to the newspaper, he said: "I never got back."