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Madden: Stewart botches chance to help

Saturday, May 25, 2002

New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza, target of rampant rumors about his sexuality, felt compelled this week to set the media, er, straight.

"I'm not gay," Piazza said.

Kordell Stewart was asked to comment on the Piazza situation. Few men could offer more relevant insight. Stewart has been the subject of similar speculation since 1998. Like Piazza, he once felt the need to tell the media that he's heterosexual.

But when Stewart offered his feelings on the Piazza situation, he mangled it. Absolutely mangled it.

"I'm a man," Stewart said in published remarks. Then he said it again. Then Stewart called himself "110 percent man."

Stewart also said, "My daddy did a wonderful job of raising a man, period, hands down, no more, no less."

He also referred to his "manhood" four times.

Stewart has denied being homosexual. But he never has denied that he's not too bright, maybe because there simply isn't any refuting that.

Stewart's comments are unintentionally but unmistakably homophobic. Says Kordell: If you're straight, you're a man. If you're a man, you're straight.

But being heterosexual and being a man are two different things.

A homosexual can be a man, especially if he doesn't cry on the sideline when he gets pulled out of a game. Being a man is about bravery, morality, resilience and other qualities that matter far more than sexuality.

Sexuality doesn't even enter into it.

Mark Bingham, one of the Flight 93 heroes on 9/11, was openly gay.

Would anyone accuse him of not being a man?

Every male should pray that the sun someday rises on a day when he's as much of a man as Bingham.

Stewart has had his sexuality questioned for four years. When the time came to talk about someone in a similar quandary, the best he could manage is, "I'm a man."

Roll over Beethoven, and tell Muddy Waters the news.

Stewart gave no insight. He offered nothing from his decidedly unique perspective. He didn't reflect upon the mental anguish he and Piazza have experienced.

Instead, all Stewart did was issue de facto denials he didn't need to make. He would have been better off saying nothing. Same for Piazza.

The New York Post "reported" the Piazza "story" using its thankfully unique bastard form of journalism: While not directly naming Piazza, the Post described the allegedly gay New York Met in such detail that it could only be Piazza.

Not many Mets "spend a lot of time with pretty models in clubs." Piazza then felt it necessary to make his denial -- which, of course, will only fuel more speculation.

Stewart can testify to that.

The rumors surrounding Stewart's personal life were dying down last season -- but not because he was playing well; I'm sure that was just coincidence -- when he chose to address them in an interview with ESPN The Magazine.

That story touched off a whole new volley of discussion, if not speculation.

The speculation won't start until the next time Stewart throws three interceptions.

Stewart should never again address his sexuality, or anyone else's sexuality. It fuels the fire, and he sounds stupid when he does it.

Remember when Stewart said, "I don't believe in Adam and Steve?" What's next, Kordell yelling for Edith to fetch him a beer?

I've never heard a young black man sound so much like a dumb white redneck.

Much has been made out of whether or not pro team sports are ready for an openly gay athlete. The answer is no, and the national reaction to the Piazza situation should close any debate on that. Like Stewart, many opened their mouths with good intentions, but idiocy just tumbled out.

But it shouldn't matter if pro team sports are ready for an openly gay athlete.

Baseball was not ready for a black player when the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson in 1946. Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey was determined to make it happen, and Robinson had the courage and talent to see it through.

Robinson was 110 percent man, and the fact he never felt the need to say so only emphasized that point.

Face it, pro team sports will never be ready for an openly gay athlete. At least not until a gay version of Jackie Robinson pushes his way through the door and pays a similar price. And I'm not sure that will ever happen.

Robinson, you see, didn't have the option of being secretly black.

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3-7 p.m. on ESPN Radio 1250.

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