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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Whatever Happened To Ex-49ers PR Man and "Videogate" Guy Kirk Reynolds?



What happened to Videogate's main fall guy Ex-49ers PR Director Kirk Reynolds?

He's resurfaced with NBX.com a kind of sports fantasy organization. I happened to spot this as I was responding to a comment link left by a guy named "Sweet Lou" with the same firm. He was commenting on Tom Walsh of the Raiders.

Check out the link to his contact page at NBX.com by clicking on the title of this post.

Who's Kirk Reynolds? Chris Bull wrote this account for ESPN, which is also linked to via the title of this post.

Diversity champion done in by insensitive mistake
By Chris Bull
Special to ESPN.com


You know Kirk Reynolds, right?

He's the former San Francisco 49ers public relations director who produced the bizarre video the San Francisco Chronicle dubbed "racist and sexist."

He's the bigot who indulged racially insensitive jokes, cavorted with topless blonds at a strip club, and mocked same-sex marriage – all recorded for posterity.

He's the jerk who the lost a dream job because of an episode "absolutely contradictory to the ideals and values of the San Francisco 49ers," as team lawyer Ed Goines put it.

At least that is how the brainy, brawny, balding Reynolds is being represented in much of the Bay Area after an adversary with ties to the storied franchise made a copy of the tape available to the Chronicle.


There is one problem with this picture: It is wrong.

This not the Kirk Reynolds that I know – or that the dozens of media types he's dealt with in his eight years with the organization have known. The Kirk Reynolds I know put his neck on the line for the very ideals of equality and diversity he now stands accused of sabotaging.

This is a cautionary tale of how style and substance get confused in the media whirlwind and how a good man can be brought down in the process.

In many ways, the story begins back in November 2002, when star 49ers running back Garrison Hearst declared, "I don't want any faggots on my team." The sentiment was sadly commonplace. For years, players across the league had been making similar remarks, both publicly and privately.

But the Bay Area boasts an admirable commitment to a level playing field, and Hearst's comments were the political equivalent of a flagrant foul, especially with owners Denise DeBartolo York and John York's courting city support for a new stadium at Candlestick Point. They determined to show a better face off the field – even as the once-great team struggled on it.

Last February, ESPN The Magazine published my lengthy profile of Lindsy McLean ("The Healer," Feb. 16, 2004), the legendary 49ers head athletic trainer. McLean had overseen Hearst's heroic comeback from a devastating ankle injury.

McLean also happens to be gay.

Apparently Hearst, well aware of his trainer's sexual orientation, would not play with a "faggot" but he was more than happy to have his career extended by one.

Having hung up his tape after nearly three decades in the trenches, McLean spoke for the first time about the sexual harassment he endured since the early 1980s, when his homosexuality became an open clubhouse secret. McLean, who has since become a friend, declined to identify his tormenters out of respect for trainer-player confidentiality. (They did not include Hearst, who treated McLean with utmost respect.)

Throughout the three-month interviewing and writing process for the article, Reynolds gently encouraged McLean – understandably nervous about the revelations – to cooperate. He coaxed Hearst to speak about the contradiction between his admiration for McLean and his feelings about homosexuals. The notoriously private Bill Walsh opened up for the first time about the death of his son, who succumbed to AIDS in 2002.

To be sure, it was Reynolds' job to cast the organization in an accepting light. Like every reporter, I have a complicated relationship with PR staffs. They bring access. But they also jealously guard material that strays too far from the company line, the stuff of which great stories are made.

McLean had told me about harrowing incidents, starting in the early '90s, when a 350-pound lineman would chase him around, grab him from behind, push him against a wall and simulate rape. "Get over here, bitch," he'd demand. "I know what you want." The lineman reprised his act whenever he could; even after he was traded to another team, he'd sneak up on McLean in the locker room or alongside the team bus.

Like every dimly understood social transgression, the episode, drenched in a toxic combination of misogyny and homophobia, became shrouded in secrecy and shame. Those who witnessed it, puzzled and aghast, preferred to pretend it had never happened or to write it off as the kind of "boys will be boys" behavior that occurs only in all-male environments.

McLean, bound by his oath, declined to name the perpetrator. Reynolds, however, was so incensed by what he had witnessed outside the team bus that he offered to give the guy up. (After much discussion, ESPN decided not to identify the player. The Boston Globe later named him.)

I recall discussing Reynolds' overture with my editor, Jon Scher. In the world of public relations, we agreed, it was extraordinary. In professional sports, it violated an unspoken code of silence surrounding the misbehavior of star athletes. How much easier would it have been to leave the onus on the victim than risk the repercussions of fingering a powerful and popular athlete?

Perhaps Reynolds made the offer because no one had stood up for McLean when he needed it most. "I saw [the athlete] chase Lindsy around the bus," Reynolds told me at the time. "It was so strange and so uncomfortable, I didn't know how to react. We all stood there watching. I think [the player] should be held accountable for what he did."

It is one thing to expose a moral wrong; another to work to right the wrong. The next year – right after Reynolds showed the team and coaches his homemade video – Reynolds, Goines and John York, inspired by the Hearst incident and their beloved trainer's ordeal, put together a mandatory diversity training program. Players who had long resisted the idea raved about how it had brought the team closer together. They now understood that by bandying around words like "queer" and "fag," they might unintentionally be offending a guy with a gay relative or friend, a guy they depended upon in the trenches.

"Lindsy helped us understand that it wasn't a healthy environment," Reynolds told me by phone from his East Bay home, where he is fielding calls and job hunting. "After the training, we broke players into teams of five, and they were nearly unanimous about how helpful it had been. After all we had been through, it was truly gratifying to feel like we had made a difference, even in this small way. This is not an easy audience to reach."

The Niners' program is considered a model. But now it has been forgotten, overshadowed by "the tape." I've watched excerpts; I won't defend it, and I can see why some took offense. But I will say the skits exemplify a kind of crude, insider humor that my teammates on my mostly gay softball team would consider tame.

"My judgment was just awful," Reynolds explains. "After I played the tape, the guys were laughing, I stood up and said something along the lines of, 'I hope I didn't offend anyone.' Ironically, I was really thinking that maybe the religious guys in the room would be offended by the nudity. But the fact that I had to make that statement at all should have been a red flag for sure."

So go ahead and find Reynolds guilty of a boneheaded indiscretion, of violating public relations rule No. 1: Never put anything on paper or tape that you wouldn't want repeated publicly.

But Reynolds is innocent of the far more serious charge – intolerance. He made a mistake, but like all such mistakes – including Hearst's "faggot" comment – it created a teachable moment. In a time when pro athletes are managed by agents and handlers to avoid saying anything of substance, such moments have become all too rare.

"What's on that tape is not the true me," Reynolds says. "The true me is the guy who supported Lindsy. The true me is the guy who promotes diversity training in our organization and in the league. Before this is over, I want to get that back."

So let's not lose sight of what really matters – making the NFL a more comfortable, accepting place for gay athletes and employees. Thanks in part to Kirk Reynolds, now paying the price for his good deeds, we are one step closer to that elusive goal.

Chris Bull is editor of PlanetOut.com.

1 comments:

Sweet Lou said...

thanks for the love today. obviously we're happy to have kirk around here at nbx.com. the guy kicks ass and he's a hell of a nice guy.

it's also great to read a real, honest take on what went down with kirk and the 9ers. kirk's one of the best guys you'll ever meet and it was a shame to see him abused on the front pages when he doesn't have a sexist/racist/prejudice bone in his body.

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