On Saturday night at PETCO Park, The San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus was supposed to perform the National Anthem in front of a sold out crowd of 40,221, including over a hundred friends and family. The San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus did not get to perform. Allegedly, there was a malfunction which prevented the choir from performing, prompting the Padres to play a pre-recorded National Anthem. In the time since the incident occurred, we’ve all come to learn that it’s normal for teams to have a backup plan in case the scheduled performer is unable to perform, for whatever reason.
Note: in the time since the article was first written, it has surfaced that the choir was going to lipsync their own recording. The Padres played the wrong audio.
The problem is that the Padres chose to play a pre-recorded National Anthem featuring a female singer which, in the words of The San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus’ executive director, Bob Lehman, was “with the purpose of denigrating and/or ridiculing gay men“. The chorus then (allegedly) left the field under a chorus of bigots yelling “you sing like a girl” – which became the title of Lehman’s press release.
The story has legs. So much so it’s been featured on news sources encompassing the entire political spectrum; from CNN to The Drudge Report, and even overseas on the front page of the Daily Mail.
The Padres have offered tepid apologies, and the whole story itself is still developing. (In traditional Dee fashion, the Padres threw their third party contractor under the bus, fired the DJ, and have absolved any individual of wrong doing.)
The story itself is damaging enough, seeing as the Padres failed at nearly every opportunity:
Among other things they didn’t do optimally. That’s to be expected from poor management and, at this point, isn’t remotely surprising from the current Padres regime. (The All-Star Game is going to be a blast, isn’t it?)
But the story is far more damaging because the headlines also hint at a possible hate crime, which emanates entirely from Bob Lehman charging just that: that the San Diego Padres may have committed a hate crime. These are not my words, but his own, in two full paragraphs:
With this as background, we call on the San Diego Padres and Major League Baseball to immediately launch a full and transparent investigation into the incident to determine if someone or some people intentionally engaged in anti-gay discrimination or a hate crime by playing a female’s voice to represent a group of gay men with the purpose of denigrating and/or ridiculing gay men. The historic significance of such an act is not lost on the LGBT community—especially in relation to professional sports—and added to the depth of embarrassment experienced by the singers and their families.
We also call upon the City of San Diego City Attorney’s Office and the City of San Diego Human Relations Commission to independently investigate this incident to determine if members of the San Diego Padres organization engaged in activity in violation of the San Diego Human Rights Ordinance or engaged in any deliberate hate crimes based on sexual orientation.
The thing is … a hate crime, as you might expect, would actually need to involve a crime. Bigotry and hate crimes overlap, but one does not guarantee the other. And incompetence certainly isn’t a hate crime. The California penal code codifies a hate crime as requiring
(a) The crime against the person of another either includes the present ability to commit a violent injury or causes actual physical injury.
(b) The crime against property causes damage in excess of nine hundred fifty dollars ($950).
In other words, for a hate crime to be committed, it requires either (attempted) assault or vandalism.
More explicitly, California law actively protects non-violent, non-credible-threat free speech:
However, no person may be convicted of violating subdivision (a) based upon speech alone, except upon a showing that the speech itself threatened violence against a specific person or group of persons and that the defendant had the apparent ability to carry out the threat.
In other words, even if the Padres intentionally orchestrated everything – female singer and crowd heckling included – it still wouldn’t qualify as a hate crime. Unfettered, abhorrent, “you should be punched in the fucking head for believing that” bigotry, but not a hate crime.
Besides the tangible damage done to the brand from alleging a hate crime has taken place, when it certainly has not, is that the accusation of a hate crime against an organization owned and operated by Ron Fowler is no laughing matter. That’s because the first hate crime against a homosexual that was prosecuted by the San Diego District Attorney was committed by Ron Fowler’s late son, Bradley.
(I don’t tell this story lightly. I actually stumbled upon it when researching Ron Fowler’s tenure as the San Diego Sockers. A simple “Ron Fowler” search of the Los Angeles Times archive and there it was.)
The story is super sad. Drunk in Hillcrest, Fowler’s son and two buddies assaulted a gay man in Hillcrest, stealing his wallet after telling him to “give me your money, fag”. Brad Fowler would become the first person in San Diego County charged by the local District Attorney for a hate crime against a homosexual. In court, Brad Fowler submitted a psychological evaluation from a professional psychologist that, more or less, blamed his actions on his parents, Ron included:
Brad was found guilty and performed extensive community service, supporting local LGBT and HIV/AIDS groups in San Diego. (The court documents aren’t clear if that was it, but two documents were submitted on behalf of the organizations he volunteered for.)
At some point after that, Brad passed. In 1999, Ron Fowler started the Bradley Fowler Memorial Scholarship, annually awarding $5,000 each to five San Diego student athletes that “must have demonstrated his or her ability to overcome personal obstacles associated with drugs or alcohol”.
Ron Fowler has continued to support the LGBT community in San Diego, and pretty much every charitable organization in San Diego, eventually earning the Big Brothers/Big Sisters “San Diego Person of the Year” award in 2013 for his charity. And the Padres organization themselves hosted its first official Pride Night last September, donating a portion of ticket sales to San Diego pride organizations.
With that background, I find it very hard to believe that the Padres run a top-down bigoted organization. Besides the fact that openly gay former employees have come to their defense, they are led by someone who understands the issue, emotionally and empirically, more than pretty much anyone else in the sports industry.
I give this team a hard time for many valid reasons, but bigotry isn’t one of them. Let alone bigotry with violent intent, as Lehman’s hate crime accusation wildly asserts. Unless you count front office appearances on the Dan Sileo Show.
I actually imagine the past two days have been more rough for Ron than the choir. A seminal reminder of your lost child must be worse than having sparse insults hurled your direction for a few minutes. Not that I have any experience with either and, truthfully, they both sound like shitty, painful experiences.
The point is: whatever mental anguish Bob Lehman states his choir suffered was probably borne from innocent, legitimate errors by the Padres. Just like whatever mental anguish Bob Lehman has unintentionally heaped on Ron Fowler for alleging an organizational hate crime: a sensationalist viewpoint ignorant of the Padres’ chairman’s past. The error goes both ways here.
In the end, can’t we all just call a spade a spade? The Padres aren’t bigots, let alone being in the business of committing hate crimes (except against fans that enjoy watching good baseball, amirite?!?). They’re just very poorly run, exacerbating events like small technical audio glitches onto the front page of CNN.
For goodness sake, fire Mike Dee already.