The videos were produced by 49ers Public Relations Director Kirk Reynolds who has since resigned. Reynolds claims his resignation has more to do with his heart no longer being ‘in it’ than anything else, but judging by team statements, one way, or another his career with the 49ers would have been over by now anyway.
While the material found in these videos are clearly objectionable, I do not find them particularly offensive, and beyond that, I do believe that the controversy around these videos has been blown out of proportion. So take a minute, and read on before you comment on my insensitivity.
To be fair, I will acknowledge that I am a fan or Kirk Reynolds. I believe he has done an excellent job with the team, particularly in the Dennis Erickson era when spinning 2-14 seasons positively took a Masters in Creativity. Reynolds has lead the public relations department astutely over the years. He has handled the requests of fans, media, and players with professionalism. In so doing he has also helped the 49ers sustain a dignified stance in an ever-increasing politically correct world. A long time 49er, Reynolds has been unfairly ambushed by this controversy. So there you have it, my bias is now on the table.
The controversy around this tape has lead to Reynolds being called a racist, sexist, bigot, a jerk along with plenty of other things that are easily as objectionable as the material found on the tapes. Locals have tried rallying Reynolds neighbourhood to push him out of town. But the problem here is not that Reynolds is any of the aforementioned. Nor is the problem the creation of the tape itself. The problem here is the public’s inability to recognize satire, humor and the audience that this tape was intended for and the problem has been enhanced by the team taking the wrong ‘corrective’ action after the tape was discovered.
I will not try and defend the tape itself, but I do think it is worth examining the possibility that not only is Reynolds not a bad person, but that he actively worked to improve the sensitivity of the team. A football locker room is much like a fraternity. Players are like brothers, and what is said in a locker room, much like a fraternity – is supposed to stay there. Humor can be off colour, without being offensive. Players can act in a manner that may not be fit for the public. But in all, it is an environment that most outsiders cannot relate to – not because the players are animals, but because the atmosphere of a football locker room breeds a different type of humanity. I believe that if we the public can relate a part of our lives to the locker room setting, the vast majority of us will change our opinion about the contents of the tapes.
In creating these videos Reynolds was working under the fraternal mask of the team. He was creating videos aimed at an audience that was not the public. While I recognize that only a small part of the population can relate to being part of a fraternity, I do believe that most of us can find a different relation to the locker room. In appealing to that audience Reynolds was using the same humor and satirical comedy, a type of off colour humor that is found not only in locker rooms and fraternities but also within cliques of good friends. Consider for a moment your own group of friends. Can any of you currently reading this article tell me, that in all honesty your group of friends has never made an off colour joke or remark? Are we really to believe that most of the public really does not make any satirical jokes? Of course it happens. The difference is that within the context of our close friends these jokes are understood exactly how those videos were interpreted in the locker room. Not as a flame or political statement. Not as a means to further derail one minority group or another. Not as racism or sexism. Rather, as a means of recognizing stereotypes within society. Only through this recognition can we ever begin to accept everyone as equals. In other words, if everyone is made fun of, no one is (as in the same way that if everyone is brilliant, than everyone is actually average).
The time and place for these videos was the 49ers locker room. It was only after the videos left that context that any issue arose. Recognizing the context of the tapes is crucial, because, while it does not make the material less objectionable to the public it should make us realize that we were never supposed to see it. That of course does not make the videos less offensive, but what it does do, is help us realize that the only reason the public is upset with these videos is that it cannot understand it.
The jokes and satires in the videos are spoken not because Reynolds is a racist, just like the comments made within our own groups are friends are not made because we are racist. Rather these comments are a recognition of what is wrong in society today. There is a time and a place for that type of humour. There is a context within which the use of stereotypes can be used not to oppress but quite to the contrary to dignify. The vast majority of us who make these occasional jokes do so in an attempt to break down the barriers in society and to dignify others not to be racist or sexist. I firmly believe that like a group of friends joking around, Reynolds was not being racist, he was simply trying to expose stereotypes within society.
Reynolds is not a bad person. He was part of the founding team that created the 49ers diversity training. A training program for players that has been a model for the rest of the NFL. He has done more than just speak out against actual racism, sexism, etc. Reynolds has actually worked to mitigate it. Further Reynolds has explained he was erred in the creation of these videos. "My judgment was just awful," Reynolds explained. "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."
Reynolds continues to argue that "What's on that tape is not the true me, 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." I personally believe Reynolds. I am able to recognize the satire in his work. I am able to recognize that his videos were meant to appeal to a certain audience – and while I do not defend the videos or the material on them - I do defend Reynolds. I do believe that he was acting to mitigate everything that is in those videos. I do believe that the purpose of the videos was to enhance the sensitivity in the organization, and I do believe that the videos achieved that purpose. The problem is simple, the public does not recognize the videos for what they are. Just like a swim instructor may run on a slippery pool deck, to prove a point, these videos were a tool of what not to do.
The 49ers organization also fumbled on how it related to the public regarding this controversy likely because Reynolds was not part of the ‘clean up’. If the 49ers management did not know about the production of the videos, than it should have. If the 49ers management knew about the first video, than it should have had a better plan in place to defend their organization. Instead, the York’s are emerging as negatively as ever from this controversy. John York has known about the first video since at the very latest February and yet no action was taken then. That is a sign of bad management and judgment through and through. But rather than dismissing Reynolds, the 49ers should have embraced the videos for what they are – a tool.
Instead of saying the videos are ‘not representative of the 49ers’ and had ‘not been reviewed or given the ok by upper management’ the team should have embraced the videos as part of their diversity training program. Taking the current ‘stand off approach’ the 49ers organization looks scrambled, and aloof. But had the team said “these videos were created not as a means to offend anyone, but as a means to convey a message about diversity” it could have been spun into a positive fashion. The videos would be much less controversial had the 49ers simply said “this was a satire, designed to show the team what not to do. It was created as an exaggerated set of circumstances with one goal in mind – to make sure that no player ever acts in the manners demonstrated on the tapes. With the context of the diversity training program that we, the 49ers, were the first to introduce to the NFL, we believe this tool when used judiciously is an excellent way of conveying a message about sensitivity. Through our experimentation with tools such as these videos we have determined that they are indeed successful and creating a more sensitive locker room.”
Had the 49ers spun this controversy in that direction, you can bet the story would have been cut down to size a long time ago. You can also bet that Kirk Reynolds would still have his job with the team. The 49ers should have acted proactively and educated the public about the need for materials like this, rather than working retroactively at defending themselves and attempting to remove the organization from the creation of such materials.