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Hawaii Coach's Gay Slur Reflects Locker Room Culture

Aug 1, 2009 – 9:40 PM
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Greg Couch

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Greg McMackinDid you hear Hawaii football coach Greg McMackin's apology? He stood there and started crying. What a ...

Finish that sentence.

Touching moment? Honest emotion?

Well, I'm thinking players on his team, most football players really, would see a grown man cry and finish that sentence with the same word McMackin was apologizing for. It's the language of the locker room.

College football has gone into the strangest of bizarro worlds the past few days, as McMackin spoke the language, unacceptable in the real world but part of the daily life of the sports world. Talking about last year's bowl blowout loss to Notre Dame, he called an Irish team dance a "f****t dance." And the dance since then has been a whacked-out one, as the sports world has seen, yet again, its stupid and offensive ways ooze out.

So McMackin apologized to Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, and Weis accepted, sort of. But it was also a little odd because Notre Dame wasn't the real victim in this. And then the Western Athletic Conference commissioner threatened action, so Hawaii jumped in and suspended McMackin.

The only real punishment in the sporting world is to take the athlete or coach away from the field. It's a 30-day suspension, which sounds great. And you know how many games McMackin will miss? Zero. The season won't start before the suspension ends.

But there are practices. Lots of practices. And the suspension does cover those. Sort of. Not wanting to make the players suffer for their coach's mistake, Hawaii is allowing McMackin to volunteer during those practices. Huh? He is suspended from practices, but can still run practices?

A suspension that doesn't suspend him from anything.

See, the sports world has to act shocked about what McMackin said, even though it's exactly the way the sports world talks and acts. How confusing it must be for him to be punished, sort of, for this.

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Homophobia in Sports
Hawaii football head coach Greg McMackin was suspended for 30 days without pay for making a derogatory comment while describing Notre Dame's chant before last year's Hawaii Bowl. In total, McMackin will lose roughly $169,000 from his salary this year. Click through to see other incidents of homophobia in sports.
Sam Greenwood, Getty Images
Sam Greenwood, Getty Images

Homophobia in Sports

    Hawaii football head coach Greg McMackin was suspended for 30 days without pay for making a derogatory comment while describing Notre Dame's chant before last year's Hawaii Bowl. In total, McMackin will lose roughly $169,000 from his salary this year. Click through to see other incidents of homophobia in sports.

    Sam Greenwood, Getty Images

    In December 2006, NFL linebacker Joey Porter, while playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was fined $10,000 by the league for a gay slur he directed towards tight end Kellen Winslow after a game.

    Al Bello, Getty Images

    In his book 'Nine Ten and Out!', boxing great Emile Griffith described his feelings about his 1962 fight with Benny Paret, who taunted him with a homophobic remark at their weigh-in. "Even though I never went to jail, I have been in prison almost all my life," Griffith said.

    Stephen Lovekin, Getty Images

    In February 2007, former NBA star Tim Hardaway made a series of homophobic remarks during a radio interview. Hardaway stated "Well, you know I hate gay people, so I let it be known," when questioned about the coming out of retired player John Amaechi. He later apologized twice for his comments.

    Jesse D. Garrabrant, NBA via Getty Images

    White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen got into trouble in June 2006 when he referred to FanHouse columnist Jay Mariotti as "a (expletive) fag." Guillen was fined an undisclosed amount by the league and ordered to attend sensitivity training.

    Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images

    Former Atlanta Braves closer John Rocker frequently came under fire for his racist and homophobic views, which included statements in a January 2000 issue of Sports Illustrated where he insulted gays.

    Matt Campbell, AFP / Getty Images

    NFL star Terrell Owens raised eyebrows when he appeared in an interview for Playboy magazine in 2004 and insinuated that his former teammate, Jeff Garcia, was homosexual. "If it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, by golly, it is a rat." Owens said.

    Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

    NFL tight end Jeremy Shockey caused a stir on the Howard Stern radio show in 2002 when he said "If I knew there was a gay guy on my college football team, I probably wouldn't, you know, stand for it."

    Jim Rogash, Getty Images

    In February 2001, former NBA guard Jason Williams, while playing for the Sacramento Kings, shouted racist and anti-gay slurs to an Asian-American fan and to others seated beside him. The league eventually levied a $15,000 fine on Williams for cursing at fans.

    Rocky Widner, NBA via Getty Images


Let me just say this, in case there are any doubts about what I'm saying:

What McMackin said was an outrage. Unacceptable anywhere. In public, in the locker room. Anywhere. And in this case, it was at a press conference discussing the upcoming season. Cameras. Notebooks. Scribbling pens. Microphones. And a coach, representing his university, who thinks a dance doesn't look manly. So he uses the universal word in locker rooms, dugouts, playgrounds.

See, the sports world has to act shocked about what McMackin said, even though it's exactly the way the sports world talks and acts.And don't think this is just about political correctness. It's not. This is about the stupid machismo culture of sport. In that culture, gays aren't seen as real men. Or treated as them, either.

The minute McMackin said it, he started backpedaling, asking reporters to cover for him, to leave out the word he had used. He immediately realized he had let a little of sports' pathetic private turf out into the real world. And the outrage over this, going all the way to Hawaii's governor, has been a little disingenuous.

The thing is, the man just signed a five-year $1.1 million a year contract exactly because he talks like this. It's the language athletes respect. You don't like the way a player is practicing? Alter his name a little to make it a girl's name. Don't think McMackin is alone, or even a dinosaur. He's a reflection. They talk about respect and code, but the code doesn't really allow for respect, does it?

I'm not sure how to change this culture, so deeply ingrained. Entrenched. Suspensions, fines. It never changes a thing.

Speaking of fines, McMackin won't be paid during his suspension, and in addition to that, he's taking a seven percent pay cut. That said, on Wednesday, a day before he jammed his foot, shins and knee into his mouth, McMackin told a Hawaiian newspaper that he would be willing to take a seven percent cut, as his boss did, to help the school out of its financial crisis.

Still, a month's pay is lost here. He also has to do some work with gay and lesbian groups. McMackin later acknowledged that he had offended gays. I wonder who told him.

"I just want to say that I made a big mistake," he said Friday. "I want to apologize to everyone and anyone that I offended with my remarks. I'm committed to do whatever I can to use this as a life lesson to learn from my mistake."

\Keep in mind this is a beginner's lesson, and he has been teaching our kids for years.

"I talked to Charlie at Notre Dame," McMackin said. "I wanted to apologize to him and his outstanding football team. I should have never brought Notre Dame's program up in my interview."

See, bringing up Notre Dame's dance, and his feelings about it, wasn't the problem. The problem is that he perpetuated a hurtful stereotype, and did it in public, while representing a university.

Weis said that McMackin "demonstrated poor judgment when, while making comments critical of our football program, he used a derogatory word." McMackin, Weis said, had called to apologize, and he accepted. But then, Weis, in his statement oddly went to this: "As a parent of a daughter with global developmental delays, I am especially sensitive to offensive characterizations like the one at issue here."

I cannot figure out why Weis got into his daughter. But I can only imagine the uncomfortable spot he was in, forced to accept an apology from something he shouldn't really have been in position to accept. Worse, he has to find outrage in the same locker room talk he has surely heard most every day of his professional life.

Well, in the real world, McMackin's statements only go to hurt his image. In his world, it's the apology that's going to hurt him.

After all, tough guys don't cry.
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