Dempsey's comments are nothing to laugh at

May 09, 2007|By RICK MAESE

With no outs in the top of the third inning Saturday, Orioles pitcher Daniel Cabrera gave up a leadoff double, and the Indians' Grady Sizemore strolled to the plate. For the players on the field and for the fans in attendance, it was all very routine. Those watching the game on television, though, were about to hear something that had no place at a ballgame, on TV or coming out of broadcaster Rick Dempsey's mouth.

Up in the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network booth, Dempsey and Gary Thorne were interviewing Laura Giuliani, the wife of Oriole Jay Gibbons, who was promoting a fundraiser the next day at the ballpark intended to help fight domestic violence.

Here's a brief transcript of what the interview devolved into:

Dempsey: "Laura, will this kind of help Jay in the domestic violence area? If he doesn't start getting a few more hits, you might grab him around the neck and rough him up a little bit. [Is] this money going to go to help him a little bit with maybe some of the hospital bills or something like that?"

Giuliani: "I don't know, Rick. I don't think I'm encouraging that. I'm definitely not -"

Dempsey: "Not going there?"

Giuliani: "Nope, not going there."

Dempsey: "All right, I'll domestically violate him if he doesn't start getting some more hits."

There was no canned laugh track, but some uncomfortable chuckles made it clear Dempsey felt he was cracking a joke. However, the subject matter was one of the last topics we should be laughing about.

In an interview yesterday, Dempsey apologized and said he felt the humor was directed at Gibbons' batting slump, not the noble cause Giuliani was supporting.

"I certainly didn't mean to offend anyone with my comments," said Dempsey, the former Orioles player and coach who normally handles pre- and post-game duties for MASN. The Indians series marked the first time this season he did commentary from the stadium.

"I was trying to bring some levity to the fact that Jay hasn't been hitting as well as he wanted to. ... It is a serious issue, and I didn't mean to make a joke about that at all."

A MASN spokesman said yesterday he didn't think Dempsey would be punished and reiterated the network doesn't take domestic violence lightly.

"Rick shoots from the hip. He has a refreshing, in-the-moment style of analysis," said Todd Webster, a MASN spokesman. "He regrets what he said, and we have no doubt he feels badly about the remark."

Dempsey's contrition sounds sincere, and the fact that the Orioles and their network gave space and time for Giuliani's fundraiser - which brought in $10,000 and nearly 1,000 donated cell phones for the House of Ruth - lets us know they take domestic violence seriously. But this isn't the type of issue that just disappears with an "I'm sorry."

Dempsey's failed joke is an extension of what we've traditionally ascribed to clubhouse culture. Good humor doesn't always have to please the P.C. police, but Dempsey's joke was completely irresponsible, especially when you consider his audience.

Just think about who's tuning in to watch a baseball game - many men, many children and probably some people who didn't pick up on the joke at all.

"If you're in any kind of position to reach the general public, you can't afford to take this issue lightly," said Brian O'Connor, a spokesman for the Family Violence Prevention Fund, a national advocacy group that has battled domestic violence for the past quarter century.

O'Connor used the word dangerous to describe what he heard, he says, because the audience for a baseball game is vast and includes so many impressionable minds.

Broadcasters who are paid to inform, enlighten or entertain carry a degree of social responsibility. Even if Dempsey is sorry after the fact, his comments perpetuated a caveman culture that has no problem turning a blind eye or sharing a locker room chuckle over something that just isn't very funny.

"He's an influencer in our culture, and he has fans and people who are listening to him," O'Connor said. "We're talking about social norms here, and when he says things like this, sure, he might understand that it's a serious issue, but does he know how it will be received by everyone else?"

Dempsey didn't seem to on Saturday. And it didn't take long for someone to take offense. During the broadcast, Giuliani was clearly not amused by the remarks. She was out of the country yesterday and unavailable to comment.

Before yesterday's game, Gibbons pointed out that he and his wife are friends of Dempsey's.

"I just think he spoke before he thought in that instance," Gibbons said. "It's a very touchy subject. My wife went there to help these people out. He really can't make light of the situation. She was a little upset about it, but I explained to her that `I am sure Rick didn't mean anything by it, and he made a mistake.' "

When you're in the business of words, though, you know to choose them wisely, whether you're offering serious analysis or delivering a well-timed joke. More important than anything is understanding the difference between the two.

Find a link to video of the MASN broadcast and Dempsey's remarks by visiting Rick Maese's blog at

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