Teams tackle intolerance

Guillen's sensitivity training spotlights sports' efforts to bolster awareness of differences

July 08, 2006|By BILL ORDINE | BILL ORDINE,SUN REPORTER

For sports teams, the notion of "training" has meant hitting the weight room, running wind sprints and practicing the X's and O's drawn up by the coaching staff.

However, Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen's recent profanity-laced excoriation of a sports columnist, which included a slur for gays, had last year's American League Manager of the Year in line for a type of training that's new to the sports world but could become as routine as taking batting practice.

Guillen was ordered to attend sensitivity training, also referred to as diversity training - an exercise intended to encourage an awareness and respect regarding those of a different race, ethnicity, gender, generation, religion or sexual orientation.

The third-year manager's vitriol directed at absent newspaper columnist Jay Mariotti was just the latest in a string of ill-advised utterances and actions of sports personalities over the years. But Major League Baseball's official response - commissioner Bud Selig's ordering the sensitivity training that Guillen has begun - indicates that intolerance is less likely to be, well, tolerated.

"It is a real danger for professional sports, and for the most part, they have tried to maintain a culture of ... `boys will be boys,' and that's not what's going on in the rest of society and in the corporate world," said Minneapolis-based diversity trainer David Hunt, who has conducted sensitivity sessions for college athletic administrators, coaches and athletes.

There is no shortage of examples of sports personalities exhibiting bigoted or intolerant behavior. From Los Angeles Dodgers executive Al Campanis' contending on national TV nearly two decades ago that minorities lacked the "necessities" to be on-field or front-office managers to San Francisco 49ers running back Garrison Hearst's pointedly saying just a few years ago he would not want a gay teammate, sports franchises have often found themselves in awkward spots.

"It creates a blemish. It creates a blemish on the sport and on the team, and now you have to do damage control," said Rodney Patterson, a San Francisco diversity trainer who has worked with the 49ers.

Guillen, who is expected to have another training session before the end of the season, said he was glad he had taken the first one but didn't expect to change much - just to be more careful about his choice of words. "There are so many different languages you can use when you are going to talk to somebody. There are a lot of things you cannot say about anybody, even when you want to say them," Guillen said. To head off situations like the ones spawned by comments made by Guillen, Hearst, Campanis and New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey - who publicly professed unease with the idea of gay teammates - sports leagues and teams have taken varying measures.

Programs in place

At its recent mandatory rookie symposium in San Diego, the NFL included a session on diversity that included former player Esera Tuaolo, who revealed his homosexuality after his nine-year pro football career ended.

Major League Baseball has a winter program for minor league prospects that includes diversity training as well as assistance for foreign players.

The Colorado Rookies have their own monthlong program for young players in which non-U.S. native prospects have a chance to become acclimated to Denver, and club executives have received diversity training.

And after a disastrous attempt last year by a former 49ers public relations executive to produce an in-house film to teach players how to deal with the media in such a diverse community was roundly criticized for being a highly embarrassing treatment of the subject, the club brought in professional help.

In 2003, the Ravens brought in a specialist to address the organization, including players, on sexual harassment and discrimination, but a range of sensitivity issues was discussed, a team spokesman said. Next year, as part of a broad human resources program, sensitivity training is planned. Team director of player development O.J. Brigance covers a variety of off-the-field topics, including dealing with the media, with first-year Ravens before the NFL rookie symposium.

The Orioles haven't conducted formal sensitivity sessions for players, but diversity topics might wind up being covered in spring training along with other off-the-field issues, a spokesman said. Front-office staff has received diversity training in the past.

"Diversity for us is first and foremost among our priorities," said Rockies president Keli McGregor, a former NFL player. "We know that it will strengthen our organization and help us in every objective we have."

Including winning on the field, Patterson said.

"In sports, you don't have a choice but to take from different cultures and work in a synergistic way because that's the only way you win," he said.

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