Outside the Lines:
Ballpark Politics and Final Round

 

Here's the transcript from Show 159 of weekly Outside The Lines - Ballpark Politics and Final Round

SUN., APRIL 13, 2003
Host: Bob Ley
Reported by: Sal Palantonio and Tom Rinaldi, ESPN.
Guests: Sal Bando, former major leaguer; Mark Pollick, founder, Giving Back. Jonathan Bernstein, crisis management consultant.

BOB LEY- This morning, a pro-life group uses a publicly funded baseball stadium to announce a fund-raiser. We will take a look at all the issues that involves, ahead Outside The Lines.

LEY - A publicly funded ballpark. And an emotional, divisive issue. Now they've collided.

JERRY COLANGELO, ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS OWNER - I happen to have a personal belief, which I'm entitled to.

ROSELYN O'CONNELL - The voters supported the construction of this public facility not to support Mr. Colangelo's private views.

LEY - In the middle of this debate, current and former league players are taking a political stand.

SAL BANDO, CHAIRMAN, BATTIN' 1,000 - Why are we any different than any Hollywood celebrity who lends their name on the pro-choice side of the issue? We're ball players who happen to believe in life.

LEY - Also this week ...

PROTESTERS - Break it down...

LEY - The protest at Augusta where even after months of activism there are still no women members at the home of the Masters.

MARTHA BURK, CHAIR, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF WOMEN'S ORGANIZATIONS - We can't get in front of the gates of Augusta National Incorporated. What are those boys afraid of?

LEY - Today on Outside The Lines, is this Martha Burk's final round? And baseball's abortion controversy.

LEY - This morning we're taking it to the streets. And amid the streets of Augusta, Georgia, to consider where, if anywhere, Martha Burk's protest heads from here. But we begin with an issue in Phoenix bringing together two topics rarely, if ever, heard in the same sentence -- baseball and abortion. The pastoral charm of baseball could not be further from the fiery emotion and politics of abortion. In this case the issue involves a club owner and the use of a publicly funded ballpark for a pro-life group to launch a campaign. And the rights, someone argued the necessity, of professional athletes becoming socially and politically involved. And not just on the popular or majority side of an issue but on the side that invites criticism. Sal Palantonio examines what happens when these ballpark politics become part of the ballpark experience.

SAL PALANTONIO, ESPN CORRESPONDENT - Opening day at Bank One Ballpark. Fans relax in the pool in right center field; enjoy the Diamondback stand on a perfect spring day. And pass through pro-choice demonstrators just steps from the front gate.

GRACE SHEN, PRESIDENT, VOICES FOR CHOICE, ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY - I don't think it's a good idea to mix such hot button controversial issues such as abortion rights with baseball.

PALANTONIO - This controversy began in February when the American Life League, a group fighting to have all abortions banned even in cases of rape, incest, and when the mother's life is in danger, held a press conference at Bank One Ballpark. There they announced the fund-raising initiative "Battin' 1,000," designed to raise money for an educational center in Virginia called "The Campus for Life." It is endorsed by Diamondbacks' owner Jerry Colangelo as well as numerous other baseball managers, executives, and players.

SCOTT SANDERSON, PLAYED 19 SEASONS IN THE MAJORS - We do have a common bond. And that common bond is other than our love of the game of baseball. We believe strongly in the sanctity of human life. We are happy to give our time and effort to affirm the message that life is, indeed, precious.

MARGE MEAD, LOBBYIST, ARIZONA NATIONAL ORG. FOR WOMEN - I don't know how many of these testosterone-charged ball players have experienced a pregnancy, particularly an unintended pregnancy, but I doubt that any of them have. And they are trying to impose their will about women's reproductive choice on women all over the country.

ABORTION PROTESTER - Oh, my God!

PALANTONIO - The abortion debate has been a heated one for decades. But the issue here is that a major league baseball owner allowed a publicly financed facility to be used by a group with a clear political agenda.

SHEN - My tax dollars are in the bricks of that building. If he were to rent out a room in a hotel or do it in his own home, that would be one thing because he can do whatever he wants with his money, frankly. He's a private citizen. But by using a publicly funded space paid by -- built with tax dollars, that's not OK. And it wouldn't be OK if he used it for planned parenthood because he would be isolating his pro-life fans.

COLANGELO - Our buildings are available to people with all types of agendas. All they have to do is pay a fee, pay a rental fee, and that's exactly what that particular group headed by Sal Bando did.

PALANTONIO - Sal Bando spent 16 years in the major leagues, winning three straight World Series titles with the Oakland A's. Bando has been active in the pro-life movement for years and is chairman of "Battin' 1,000."

BANDO - We are no different than any other organization. We paid for the use of the room. We thought because it's a baseball fund-raising theme that having it at the ballpark would only be apropos to have it there. And Jerry lent his name because being a pro-life person.

BILL SCALZO, DIRECTOR, MARICOPA COUNTY STADIUM DISTRICT - I think it may be the relationship of a major league baseball owner who is taking a stand that lifts it to a higher level.

PALANTONIO - According to Bill Scalzo, the director of the Maricopa County Stadium District, the county approves all concerts and other large events. The Diamondbacks manage the day use events such as "Battin' 1,000's" press conference.

SCALZO - Our contractual relationship allows a team -- if they have an event related to major league baseball be it with owners or players or other things, they have the use of the suites without our permission.

O'CONNELL - The voters supported the construction of this public facility not to support Mr. Colangelo's private views but to have a winning baseball team here which we did.

COLANGELO - I happen to have a personal belief, which I'm entitled to, but people sometimes confuse me and what I believe with the teams I am involved with in terms of ownership.

BANDO - All it is is a theme, a fund-raising theme that is called "Battin' 1,000." And if we're going to use a baseball theme, then we thought let's find some players that would be pro-life and that were willing to lend their name to it.

PALANTONIO - That list includes former major leaguers Robert Yount, Gary Carter, and Dwight Evans as well as Tommy Lasorda, Sparky Anderson, and Tampa Bay manager Lou Pinella.

Did you grapple at all, Sal, with the idea of marrying professional baseball players with an issue that, you know, has some history of being very divisive?

BANDO - Well, I think, to me, the only thing divisive is to take the life of an innocent child. I think just because we're pro athletes doesn't mean we don't have a brain and we don't take a stand or don't have the morals to stand behind what we believe in.

PALANTONIO - ESPN requested interviews with all 10 current players who endorsed "Battin' 1,000." Only one, Abraham Nunez of the Pirates, agreed to speak on camera about his involvement with the group.

ABRAHAM NUNEZ, PITTSBURGH PIRATES SECOND BASEMAN - I am worried about, you know, what people don't think, because I know this people -- they don't believe the same stuff that I believe, you know what I mean. But everybody has their rights to choose in life. Hey, I'm not worried about what peoples are going to think. I am just going stand for what I believe.

MEAD - I'm all for people speaking out on it. It sometimes takes courage. As long as they don't imply that they are bringing with them all of the ball players, the whole profession.

LEY - Sal Palantonio reporting. Major League Baseball declined to comment on the use of its parks by special interest groups. A spokesman said MLB has no control over use of the stadiums, and, quote: "We don't get involved with these kinds of issues ... and we can't stop people from taking political stands on their own." We say good morning now to Sal Bando. He joins us this morning from High Point University in North Carolina. And Mark Pollick, he is the founder of the Giving Back Fund which advises athletes on their charitable foundations. He is in Boston. Sal, let me begin with you. In retrospect, how much thought did you give to any possible negative wash back on baseball because of putting this in the bob, naming it "Battin' 1,000," having a strong baseball identity?

BANDO - We really never gave much of a thought to that. We just thought, like I said, it was apropos you have a baseball theme and we'd use the baseball park. We also had a couple hotels lined up. But it just seemed that it was more appropriate to do it there. And I think a lot of people have made a lot of noise when it really, you know, we're no different than any other organization who rented a room to have a press conference.

LEY - Is this noise or substance, Mark Pollick?

MARK POLLICK, PRESIDENT, GIVING BACK FUND - Well, from a philosophical point of view, it's extremely unusual. We started about 40 or 50 foundations with athletes. I don't know any that have adopted a mission or cause that's this controversial. So it's very unusual. Not that athletes, I agree with Sal, they should have the opportunity to speak their mind and endorse whatever they choose to endorse. But with high-profile athletes you very often find a hesitance to get involved in something this divisive and controversial because it certainly could have impact on their endorsement careers and corporate sponsorships.

LEY - Any of your people thinking that way, Sal?

BANDO - I don't think so. I think if they felt that their endorsements was in danger, then the priority would be to take a stand on what they believe in. I think if you really believe in something, then take a stand on it. If you're lukewarm about it or you're worried about the political correctness, then don't get involved.

LEY - I know you can't speak for the current major leaguers who signed and agreed to endorse your group, but only one, Abraham Nunez, would speak on camera. Why do you suspect the others might be reluctant?

BANDO - I think because of the controversy involved or the questions that may be asked. They just don't want to make more of it than need be. I think them, by lending their name to it, says enough that they believe in pro-life and that they believe in the life of a child. I don't think they need to say any more than that.

LEY - You know, Mark, for years we hear people say athletes have to get involved. We have this gauzy remembrance of the way people got involved in the 1960's. Here guys are getting involved in an unpopular issue and standing up.

POLLICK - It's true. I don't know of anybody since Muhammad Ali, who has been a very high profile athlete that has taken a stand that could be potentially be this explosive. But I would ask Sal a question. I would say, if baseball is going to be used as a battle place for the marketplace of ideas, or battleground rather, for the marketplace of ideas, would he be surprised if planned parenthood engaged several baseball players and did a similar thing? And he talks in his "Battin' 1,000" prospectus about having a friendly competition and teams would vie for those who contributed the most. I would say in a true issue like this where there are such strong feelings on both sides, I would imagine the other side will galvanize their support with baseball players as well and have a joint fund-raising competition.

LEY - Sal, where does this lead?

BANDO - Mark, I really don't see this as a problem. We did not choose baseball as an avenue. We just used it as a theme and no more than that. Because it was a theme, we got some baseball players involved. But by no means are we saying that baseball is going to be the platform for us to take our stand. We could have chosen any other subject or any other theme. It just so happens baseball was the one we chose.

POLLICK - But you would agree that baseball is an American pastime and athletes are role models. And so choosing baseball players who are role models has a powerful effect?

BANDO - Most definitely. I would think that if you have a player out there who stands for life and the gift of life, all the more we would want that player to be focused because that, to me, is the type of role model that the young people should look at.

POLLICK - Do you have a problem with the American Life League claiming in their literature absolute truth and being grounded as strongly as they are in Catholicism? Everybody in the United States is not Catholic.

BANDO - Well, I think that, to me, what's most important is that they're pro-life. Now do I agree with everything that they say? I probably differ in some areas. But again, the total focus is on life and the gift of life. And that's the stand we take. We're really trying to build a campus that will help educate generation after generation of ethics that are going to be confronted with.

LEY - I'll give both you gentlemen a shot at this final question. What does all this media scrutiny to this story, what will this do to future players speaking out on ideas and political issues? Sal?

BANDO - Well, for me I think if a player totally believes in what he stands for, he's not going to be afraid to step forward and really tell people what he believes and why he believes it. At the same time I think for those that are lukewarm, they will probably stay in the closet and we won't hear from them.

LEY - Mark?

POLLICK - Well, it might, in fact, embolden players to speak their consciousness. And if that's the case, then I think that would be a good thing.

LEY - All right, Sal Bando, Mark Pollick, thank you very much for a great exchange of thoughts this morning. We appreciate you joining us.

And as we continue the topic of the Masters protest, a pithy turnout, and the future of this cause.

BURK - Today we are protesting with placards. Tomorrow women will protest with their pocketbooks.

LEY - Yesterday in the designated five-acre lot a half mile from the front gates of Augusta National, just over three dozen protesters made their voices heard against the all-male membership policy at the golf club. There were more media members than protesters and twice as many police at the long-anticipated rally. Now a scientific survey conducted for ESPN by Marketexture indicates when compared to identical questions eight months ago the support for a change in Augusta National's membership policy has actually declined. The exact question of admitting women support has gone from 68 percent to 54 percent. And that pretty much mirrors the question will the club succumb to pressure and admit women? Belief in that scenario of going from 64 percent to 54 percent.

Martha Burk says she sees the struggle as much larger than a private golf club. Others, though, will point to the minuscule turnout and those polling trends and proclaim her crusade is now spent. Tom Rinaldi was in Augusta yesterday.

TOM RINALDI, ESPN CORRESPONDENT - Nine months in the making and ultimately it would be difficult for Martha Burk to qualify her Saturday rally in Augusta a success. In an atmosphere reminiscent of a surreal carnival at times including an Elvis impersonator, a man carrying a sign saying, "formal protest," and wearing of course, a tuxedo and a representative from the KKK. As Burk took to the podium she couldn't see the main gate half a mile away and couldn't see the clear changes there either.

BURK - Something wrong with this picture, folks. What are those boys afraid of? Even President Bush lets us come talk to him closer than a half mile away.

RINALDI - Police officers largely outnumbered protesters at the official five-acre site. The media's ranks also seemed to dwarf the protesters. As for why the turnout was so low for an event with such high profile, Burk had her own reasons.

BURK - I think the turnout is great dealing that we learned at the last minute that our opposition had actually paid people to sign up for our buses and then be no-shows.

RINALDI - In the strictest sense, no. Augusta National does not have a female member. And Martha Burk and her organization were not allowed to protest directly outside the club's main gates. But to Burk, her campaign has not been a defeat.

THOMAS BONK, LOS ANGELES TIMES GOLF WRITER - I think she brought attention to this issue. I think it's something that people are aware of now and maybe they weren't before. I think it's a notoriety issue more than anything else.

JAMIE DIAZ, GOLF WORLD - Martha Burk was an unknown commodity. I don't think anyone knew about her issues and certainly not this issue. But I think she used this issue as a platform for the issues she thinks are much greater.

BURK - Today we are protesting with placards. Tomorrow women will protest with their pocketbooks. The immediate goal, of course, was to get the club open. But that was in service of a larger goal which was to stop legitimizing sex discrimination at this very high level and in this very symbolic place.

RINALDI - If Burk's present objectives fail, perhaps she is set up for future success. Her focus is already growing looking to take corporate America to task for its tacit backing of the Masters, and in Burk's view, its continuing double standard toward women in the pay scale and treatment.

BURK - At week's end, it will have change focus. The spotlight is now going to be on those corporate CEOs, the corporate values they put out there when selling to women and saying we don't want to discriminate versus the values they put out by being a part of this, coming here and spending those hard-earned dollars that women put into their till.

LEY - More now from our scientific survey on attitudes concerning the Masters protest. By a 42 percent to 32 percent margin, people agree that they are tired of this debate and wish it would just go away.

And with all of that in mind, we say good morning to Jonathan Bernstein whose communication company specializes in crisis management. He joins us from Los Angeles. All right Jonathan, a professional critique of the molding of public opinion here. How has Martha Burk done?

JONATHAN BERNSTEIN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, BERNSTEIN COMMUNICATIONS - Well, Bob, the bottom line is that Martha Burk doesn't know when to shut up. She took a basically sound cause, one that a lot of people would have empathy for, and undermined her own cause.

LEY - How so?

BERNSTEIN - By drawing ludicrous analogies, drawing in the war in Iraq and insult to women in the military is one of her analogies, by coming across as vindictive and resentful, by conducting personal attacks on the members of the Augusta National Golf Club.

LEY - You mentioned the analogy with the women in Iraq. That was a topic for one of our poll questions about the appropriateness or inappropriateness. We have a chance now to take a look at those poll results. By a margin of 48 percent to 32 percent, it would ring that it was inappropriate to make that analogy. Where does she go now?

BERNSTEIN - If I were advising Martha Burk, I'd advise her to lay low for a while. I think she has come away from this with her credibility rating with the American public having greatly lowered from whenever she started with this about 10 months ago. And she has a basically sound cause and Augusta National has indicated that at some point they are going to consider it. Obviously they understand they have to at some point bow to the pressure. About a dozen years ago they -- was when they admitted their first black member. And I believe they will admit their first woman member at some time, but they're not going to do it at the point of Martha Burk's gun.

LEY - What are the mistakes that Hootie Johnson has made?

BERNSTEIN - I think to the extent that he went nose to nose and got personal about Martha Burk, that was a mistake. It's always poor tactics to lower yourself to the level of personal insults.

LEY - Martha Burk is trying to refocus this as a corporate image now, a corporate issue going to the boardrooms and talking about the CEOs who play and recreate in Augusta and whether people and stockholders will deal with that. Will that translate for people?

BERNSTEIN - I think if she had started there and stayed there, it would have worked better than it's going to work now. But I think ultimately that is what will make a difference. I think that, you know, quiet discussions with influential people at corporations can make a difference. But you don't do that by insulting them.

LEY - At this point if you were advising Augusta National, what would you tell them to be doing?

BERNSTEIN - I would tell them to, you know, with some sense of being expeditious to go ahead and start considering the issue and maybe get a little bit proactive. If they came forward and said, you know, we're empathetic with you, Ms. Burk, and we understand your point of view. We have a slightly different point of view and we do plan to take the issue under consideration and perhaps we won't do it as quickly as you'd like but we're willing to talk about it. They come out on the high side of things. They'd come out as sounding reasonable and without personally attacking anybody.

LEY - You say for Martha Burk to lay low. How long? How long would you tell her to stay in the grass?

BERNSTEIN - In terms of being in front of cameras and print reporters, I would suggest she lay low at least for a couple of months at this point. Because as your polls indicate, she has really shot herself in the foot.

LEY - All right, Jonathan Bernstein, thanks a great deal. We appreciate you joining us. All right.

As we continue, the keyword online at ESPN.com is otlweekly. For our library of program transcripts, our e-mail address, otlweekly@espn.com for your thoughts on baseball politics and the Masters final round.

LEY - And this reminder, make a note. Outside The Lines Nightly will return Monday, May 12, and we will be here every weeknight at 9:00 Pacific, midnight Eastern. That is beginning May 12.



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