Atlanta Braves President John Schuerholz sat down with Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham and representatives from PFLAG today to discuss ways the club could work to end bullying in schools and address homophobia in its ranks.
The meeting comes after Georgia Equality hand-delivered a letter to Schuerholz on April 28 following the news that pitching coach Roger McDowell allegedly shouted at fans on April 23 at San Francisco AT&T Park, “Are you a homo couple or a threesome?” and imitated a sex act with a baseball bat. McDowell was also accused of threatening a father who asked him to watch his language in front of children.
The meeting today between Schuerholz, Graham and Jeannie Senter, a member of the Georgia Safe Schools Coalition and PFLAG, lasted a full hour and Graham said he feels the club has a genuine concern about mending bridges with the LGBT community.
“There were no concrete plans that came out of today’s meeting, but that’s not a surprise,” Graham said. “We hope to open up an ongoing dialogue and build a solid commitment from the team to help end bullying in schools, especially against gay students or students perceived to be gay.”
There was mention during the meeting that the San Francisco Giants are set to be the first professional sports team to make a video for the popular “It Gets Better Campaign” and that could also be a possible avenue for the Braves, but Graham stressed nothing specific was decided today.
Schuerholz asked Graham and Georgia Equality to come up with a concrete plan to address bullying and homophobia in the next few months for the Braves team to look over, Graham explained.
“They want us to come up with a plan of action and we want to be thoughtful about it,” Graham said.
Georgia Equality and the Georgia Safe Schools Coalition will work on such a plan over the next few weeks and possibly see action from the Braves later this summer.
Graham said he is working to develop an ongoing dialogue with the team rather than the club holding an “LGBT Night Out with the Braves” or a one-time donation to an LGBT organization that would be forgotten in six months or a year.
“I didn’t want a hollow promise,” Graham said.
The McDowell incident will hopefully lead to ongoing discussions with the team about how it can help put an end to homophobia, especially in schools, but also address it in the professional sports world.
“They have reached out to me and I do believe their commitment is genuine,” Graham said. “We want to remain in dialogue … and specifically have the team inclusive of the LGBT community in all of its activities.
“The only firm commitment we received today is to continue a dialogue and review the plan,” Graham said. “I’m OK with this as a follow up of today.”
In the April 28 letter to Schuerholz, Graham said of McDowell’s actions, “It is imperative that you realize that this behavior is the behavior of a bully.”
“We have watched with horror how the number of children taking their own lives due to relentless bullying has escalated over the past few years. When adults engage in this same behavior, especially adults in the public spotlight like Mr. McDowell, it sends a strong message that it’s acceptable,” Graham added.
Georgia Equality commended Major League Baseball and the Atlanta Braves for taking swift action against McDowell — but the statewide LGBT advocacy group said it wanted more local action to occur, leading to today’s meeting.
“Major League Baseball got it right and addressed all three of our requests; we want to congratulate them on their decisions to help promote safety, tolerance within the sport of baseball as well as anti-bullying efforts across the country,” says a statement from Georgia Equality issued last week.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig issued a stern statement when the suspension was announced.
“Major League Baseball is a social institution that brings people together and welcomes all individuals of different races, religions, genders, national origins and sexual orientations into its ballparks. Conduct by people associated with MLB that shows insensitivity to others simply cannot and will not be tolerated,” he said.
“I understand that Mr. McDowell is very contrite about his conduct, and hopefully this incident will be used to increase public awareness of the importance of sensitivity to others,” Selig said.
The Atlanta Braves also issued their own statement on the incident prior to McDowell’s suspension, saying, “We are concerned by these allegations and the behavior described by a witness … This in no way represents the Braves organization and the conduct we expect of our employees. We will withhold further comments until we finish gathering information.”
At the time of Selig’s statement last month, Georgia Equality praised the MLB’s stance but questioned the local response from the Braves.
“While this is a great step nationally, the lack of a local response is still troubling. The Atlanta Braves have yet to respond to our letter and there has been no change in the Braves organization specifically. The decision for punishment for McDowell, an undisclosed fine, requirement for sensitivity training and a two-week ban, came down from Major League Baseball rather than the Braves. This is worrying because, while it was an individual act that caused the damage, there seems to be a team culture that has perpetuated this intolerance for over a decade,” the statement reads.
Georgia Equality also noted that anti-gay behavior from the Braves is a “virulent and recurring problem.”
“In 1999, [former Braves pitcher] John Rocker blasted an anti-gay and racist tirade to a reporter; the fall-out of the rant launched an extensive investigation and a diverse coalition formed to condemn his actions.
“While this event was 12 years apart from the incident with McDowell, the Braves are one of the only Major League Baseball team that has had this virulent and recurring problem. Beyond individual punishments, the Braves need to take a moment to look at themselves and consider what team culture they want to engender.
“What is the face they want to reflect to themselves and to their community? Where is the local action stemming from the team that started this firestorm?” according to Georgia Equality.
“The Braves were the cause of this controversy and we expect more from the leaders of their organization,” GE stated.
McDowell was also accused of threatening Justin Quinn, a father of twin daughters, who asked him to watch his language in front of children at the April 23 game at San Francisco AT&T Park. Quinn made the allegations against McDowell in a press conference with high-profile attorney Gloria Allred.
McDowell publicly apologized to the people who brought the allegations against him and held a press conference May 13, the day his suspension was lifted.
McDowell did not use the word “gay” at any time during the press conference nor did he admit or deny the allegations. He did, however, apologize again for his actions and said that kind of behavior would not happen again.
When asked if had anything to say to Braves gay fans, McDowell responded, ““Well, I would like to apologize — if anyone was offended by my actions that occurred in San Francisco. My intent was not to hurt anyone or hurt anyone’s feelings. I apologize for that.”
Top photo: Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell apologized to fans at a recent press conference (by Dyana Bagby)