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Teams tackle intolerance

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.

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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.

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"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.

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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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In addition, the globalization of sports - from the international rosters of major league baseball and NBA teams to the NFL's overseas exportation - necessitates that an ever-widening spectrum of fans feels included. And those considerations call for an even more sophisticated awareness of diversity that goes well beyond simply avoiding the occasional intemperate comment.

"In addition to the team-related issues of diversity, sports is a business, and like any other commercial enterprise, they are looking for new markets," Hunt, the Minneapolis diversity trainer, said. "So if you want to sell the NBA Finals around the world, for instance, you obviously need a world audience and you have to be concerned with what that market is thinking."

While diversity issues have the potential to affect sports business, NFL vice president for player and employee development Mike Haynes, a Hall of Fame cornerback, said the application of sensitivity can be as simple as living with the boom box in the next locker.

"We even have a focus on music," Haynes said of the NFL's diversity approach. "You might like country, or you might like rock and your teammate likes rap. You have to come up with an answer - and where so much frustration and unnecessary conflict comes from in the world is from not communicating. You have to talk and work out something acceptable to all parties."

In the expanding landscape of diversity issues, those regarding attitudes toward sexual orientation can be among the most nettlesome because of strong religious beliefs held by some athletes.

"The point that has to be made is that with this training we're not asking anyone to change fundamental values and beliefs, but ... [the club is saying] that you will treat everyone on this team with respect," Hunt said.

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Locker room culture

And contributing to a homophobic atmosphere has been the long-held locker room culture equating heterosexuality with manliness, and consequently with courage. That seemed to be apparent when Guillen tried to explain that his use of the slur directed at Mariotti was in reference to what the manager said was the writer's lack of courage - and not meant to defame gays.

"There is the issue of intent and impact," Patterson, the diversity trainer who has worked with the 49ers, said. "Regardless of your intent, you have to consider what the impact of what is said is going to be on the team and the community."

Diversity training is given both in group and individual settings. Often, it entails getting the person receiving the training to discuss his or her background and beliefs. Patterson said he spends more time asking questions and listening than lecturing. Scenarios are frequently presented that allow the people in training to examine how their beliefs play out and whether their responses and attitudes are conducive to successful outcomes. If not, then strategies are discussed for what type of approach would produce greater success.

In the early days of diversity training, sessions may have been limited to race and gender considerations; recently, though, sexual orientation has become more important. Hunt and Patterson said that high school and collegiate athletic programs will be faced with an even newer issue, that of transgender athletes, from what team they should participate on to uniform considerations.

And professional sports will continue to be challenged on the issue of sexual orientation as athletes become less intimidated by what has been traditionally a hostile locker room environment.

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"There's a whole generation of [homosexual] college athletes out there who are coming out and some of them are eventually going on to the pros," Hunt said. "And the pros are not ready for them."

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.


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