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Let's try to sort through the logic behind Roger McDowell's suspension. The first thing we need to understand is the existence of parallel universes. We'll start with the one in which McDowell resides. His universe is Baseball Universe, where a 50-year-old pitching coach can abuse customers both verbally and histrionically while in uniform. He can be sexually suggestive with a baseball bat in front of children, and he can hold that bat in his hands and threaten a paying customer's dental future.
In response to outrage regarding McDowell's actions at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Baseball Universe carefully considers the available evidence. It investigates the reports that McDowell went off on a rant that included slurs against homosexuals, creepy bat manipulation and a foul-mouthed admonishment about bringing kids to the ballpark. It weighs the words of the paying customers against McDowell's response, which has yet to include a denial. And Baseball Universe decides the appropriate punishment is a two-week suspension from duty as Atlanta Braves pitching coach.
|Roger McDowell will take sensitivity training and apologize to the fans involved.|
Just for fun, let's transfer this same situation/response to the universe in which the rest of us reside: Real-World Universe. Say you're working in some capacity that requires you to have interaction with the people who pay your salary. These are customers who pay for a product provided in your place of employment -- store, construction site, restaurant, whatever. To drive the point home, you're dressed head to toe in a uniform that identifies you as an ambassador of that company/product.
And one day, out of the blue, with no history behind it, you go off. Either you're having a bad day or you're a bad person with a lot of pent-up anger, but you're not holding back. You don't care who's watching or listening. If you thought about it for even a millisecond you might, but you're not thinking. You head directly to what you consider the most vicious slur you know. Maybe you have some weird hang-up about homosexuality that makes it your go-to insult when someone provokes you. You're holding some tool of your trade (so to speak) that makes it easy to simulate the act you're so fixated on.
Remember, this is in your place of work. You're not the boss, but you're not an unpaid intern, either. You're middle management, a 50-year-old guy who has worked in the field your whole life to reach a comfortable spot in life. You're a success.
When your employer sits down to examine the available evidence ... wait, forget that. Your employer doesn't do that in Real-World Universe. Here, publicly insulting, abusing and threatening customers -- while tossing out slurs against homosexuals, no less -- isn't cause for a whole lot of examination. The best you can hope for is a trip to a psychiatrist or maybe a neurologist to see if there's a psychological or medical reason for such an outburst.
More than likely, though, if you abuse customers in this fashion, you're simply gone. Pack up your stuff and go. The firing would be immediate, justified and without apology.
Even in Baseball Universe, there should be a minimum standard of human decency expected of people who put on a uniform. Every time they do, they're representing their team, Major League Baseball and the entire sport. That's not the same as being a role model, because we've heard a lot of misguided references to McDowell as a role model for America's youth. He's not a role model in the slightest. He's a pitching coach who apparently acted like an insufferable boor in front of a group of fans in San Francisco. If he hadn't gotten himself in the news this way, we'd only hear about him in relation to Tommy Hanson's pitch counts, Jair Jurrjens' mechanics and Brandon Beachy's release point.
|Terry Francona interacts with those at a game in a more fan-friendly style.|
(It must be said that no one should go lightly into an agreement with Gloria Allred, whose own questionable histrionics brought this issue into the open. And it's equally hard to fully subscribe to the tactics employed by the recipients of McDowell's outburst. I mean, if your daughters were so traumatized by McDowell's actions, why stick them in front of a microphone to discuss it? And why put them on the public stage and subject them to a re-enactment that would shame the producers of "To Catch a Predator?")
Before McDowell went off, he failed to understand that a significant shift had occurred: The parallel universes changed course and collided. The rules had changed but McDowell didn't change with them.
In Baseball Universe, whether it's the clubhouse or the bullpen or the plane to the next city, the kinds of things he said and did are commonplace. The homophobic stuff is coin of the realm when it comes to locker-room banter. Not everyone holds the same views as McDowell, and thankfully almost none of them take the banter out of its native habitat.
It happens in every men's sport, just as it happens in every male-dominated workplace, but baseball's culture seems to intensify it. When that many guys converge to essentially live together for six months, it's probably inevitable. Mostly it's juvenile and innocuous, but sometimes it gets out into the open and becomes juvenile and vile.
So think about this: Every once in a while, a rumor starts to circulate about a major league ballplayer being gay. Inevitably, someone will ask the question: Will an active player ever feel comfortable coming out? Instances like this help you understand how hard that decision might be.
So, should McDowell have been fired? In the universe he currently occupies, apparently not. And that might be the saddest statement of all.
ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown co-wrote Josh Hamilton's autobiography, "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back," which is available on Amazon.com. Sound off to Tim here.MORE COMMENTARY »