For a week after Steelers linebacker Joey Porter twice dropped a homophobic slur in his post-game comments with the media, you could hear a pin drop on the North Side and Madison Avenue, such was the clamor coming from the NFL and Steelers front offices.
In case you've been in a coma: After the Steelers smoked the Browns on Dec. 7, Steelers linebacker Joey Porter lit into Browns tight end Kellen ("K2") Winslow Jr., calling him an antiquated British term for a cigarette.
K2 does appear to be a first-class jerk. He runs his mouth like a champ, though he has yet to distinguish himself on the field. Combine that with the cheap shot Winslow put on James Farrior, and he deserved to be taken to the proverbial verbal woodshed.
But Porter's choice of words is bothersome, because it seems the NFL still lives in a world where if one is gay, his manliness is questionable. Doubting someone's sexuality is still the first and handiest put-down among "manly men."
Are gay men somehow less male than anyone else? You know, people used to say that kind of stuff about Jews and blacks, too.
I'm sure Porter didn't think through all the subtleties of history and homophobia. He's a linebacker, not a linguist. But homophobia is rampant in professional sports, precisely because attitudes like the one Porter displayed are so often tolerated.
It's hard to know how contrite Porter really is. A week after the incident, Porter did apologize -- to anybody he may have offended except Winslow. Is Porter onto something? When we say something stupid, can we all choose whom to offend?
A week after the incident, the NFL fined Porter $10,000 for his remarks. Compare that to the response when Porter said something inappropriate to an official during the Oct. 29 Raiders game: The League fined him $15,000 for allegedly saying he was "coming after" a ref. (Porter denies saying those words, and says he was addressing players in the huddle anyway.) The week before, the NFL fined three Steelers a total of $15,000 for celebrating a touchdown too exuberantly.
Or compare Porter's slur to the conduct of Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Johnson, who was hit with a $5,000 fine for showing up with the words "Ocho Cinco" on his jersey during pre-game warm-ups.
Perhaps Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn't want to spend his days policing players' language. Or perhaps the gay, lesbian and transgender communities don't buy enough official NFL schwag to matter to the Commish. (I'm sure the marketing geniuses at the NFL have a way of tracking such things.) Or maybe the Madison Avenue cabal was too busy taking in a matinee of Rent to respond more aggressively.
What is clear is that the NFL is becoming a product that puts style over substance, and puts sponsorship über alles. As long as the players produce, ratings are high and nobody interferes with the business of selling the NFL, it's all copacetic.
As far as the Steelers go, the Rooney family's non-response is disappointing. They're supposed to be the good guys, but they appear not to worry about what the gay and lesbian population of Steeler Nation thinks. They didn't have to fine Porter: Simply making a public statement decrying his statements would have been enough.
If the name-calling were just "Joey being Joey," I guess the discomfort displayed by the Steelers and the NFL is just "suits being suits." No wonder a player like Esera Tuaolo, a former defensive tackle who played eight years as a pro, waited until after he retired to come out of the closet.
But at least with all the fines mounting, I trust Joey will keep his mouth shut the next time Winslow angers him -- and there will be a next time. Maybe Porter can just sic his dogs on him.