To: Roger McDowell, pitching coach, Atlanta Braves
Re: Getting you right with the world
I read, with amazement, accounts of your encounter with baseball fans at San Francisco’s AT&T (or whatever they’re calling it these days) park last month. Mostly, you’re accused of uttering anti-gay slurs; you then capped it by suggesting that “kids don’t belong in the (bleeping) ballpark.” If even partially true, it was a tour de force of boneheadedness.
You’re now serving a two-week suspension. You kept your job, which suggests that the Atlanta Braves value you as a pitching coach. You and I have never met. I’d always heard you were one of the good guys — smart, talented, with an appealing streak of the crazy. Sounds like that last part went kinda haywire in SF. Let’s go out on a limb and assume you are worth redeeming.
Here’s what you need to do. Most of it involves the news media.
First, I have to make the following assumption: You want to fix this. You really don’t hate gays, or what we call the GLBTQ community. Or, if you did hate them, you now realize it’s not rational to do so. You don’t want to turn into John Rocker, who compounded his own bigotry by becoming an angry fool afterward. Although it made Rocker’s demise as a pitcher more entertaining to watch (and clearly inspired one of the best shows ever shown on television, Eastbound and Down), your intelligence presumably will guide you here. Don’t make this worse. Let’s make it better.
Your suspension will end in a few days. The media will descend when you return to the clubhouse. You may be tempted to issue a statement and take a few questions from the beat writers and local TV folk in attendance. You’ll want to shut it down afterward, quickly. You can do better.
On the day before you return to the clubhouse, ask the Braves PR folk to call a news conference in the 755 Club. Give the news media at least 24 hours advance notice, including media in San Francisco. This will allow everybody who wants to attend to plan accordingly. This will make your news conference a big deal. That’s OK. You want it to be a big deal, because you want to fix this problem in one 48-hour period.
During the news conference: You’ll stand alone at a podium. If you have a statement, make it. Your statement will conclude with: After this news conference, I’m not going to talk about this anymore.
Then you’ll take questions. You’ll take them exhaustively. You’ll answer questions that are redundant. You’ll answer questions that you may think are disrespectful or judgmental. You’ll answer questions that may seem designed to embarrass you. You’ll treat all the questions and questioners respectfully, and you’ll answer every question thoughtfully.
It will take a while– an hour, maybe longer. Your goal: Outlast the press corps. Answer questions until there are no more questions. It’ll happen. The press will want to file their stories, and they’ll realize every question has been asked and answered.
Your template is Geraldine Ferraro, the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee in 1984. During that campaign, questions arose about the finances of her husband John Zaccaro. Ferraro called a news conference, answered questions until the questions were exhausted, and was the last person to leave the room. She got lots of credit for doing so. The issue mostly went away, and Ferraro was free to get on with her job. The same will happen to you.
Two other suggestions, to make your contrition complete.
The day before your news conference, grant an exclusive interview to the Georgia Voice, Atlanta’s gay newspaper. It’ll demonstrate the seriousness of your intent to make reparations with Atlanta’s gay community. It won’t get a large audience but it will win you respect, in both Atlanta and San Francisco.
In October, plan to march in Atlanta’s Pride parade. I’m serious. I know you’ve got it in you. It’ll be fun. There’s only one thing the GLBTQ community loves more than open-minded, gay-friendly folk: Former haters who have seen the light. That will be you, my friend.
You may follow this course. You needn’t thank me for the advice.
Or, you may follow the Rocker course, and decide you don’t care what people think. You may utter a halfhearted statement of apology, depart abruptly, and let the ugly whiff of bigotry linger on you forever. I’m sure Rocker would enjoy having some company in whatever purgatory it is in which he dwells.