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Football's 49ers Face a Blitz of Criticism for Videotape

June 02, 2005|John M. Glionna and Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writers

SAN FRANCISCO — In an embarrassing public relations fumble for the 49ers professional football franchise, an off-color training video that includes naked women, racial slurs and swipes at Mayor Gavin Newsom was made public Wednesday.

The 15-minute in-house tape, part of which was filmed in Newsom's office, shows the team's former public relations director, Kirk Reynolds, interviewing a bucktoothed Asian man in Chinatown, spoofs the city's recent gay marriages and shows the PR executive in a group hug with three naked women.

The tape's release brought an immediate backlash from the city's Chinese American community, which called for an apology from the team.

That atonement came Wednesday in a statement by 49ers owners Denise and John York, who called the video "offensive in every manner."

"We deeply regret that anyone from our organization would produce such senseless, inexcusable material," the statement said, adding that "the individuals responsible for producing the video have left or are leaving our employment." It did not offer further details.

In a brief interview Wednesday, Reynolds apologized for the tape's content. "I want people to understand how badly I feel about this," he said. "I have to own up to what I've done. But the person that's being depicted out there is not me."

He also stressed that he had not been fired. "I told them a couple of weeks ago there were other opportunities I was pursuing. I had told them I was intending to leave prior to training camp. After this [release of the tape], I thought it was in the best interest of the team to accelerate the schedule."

The tape's release came at an embarrassing time for Newsom, who on Wednesday played host to 70 mayors from cities worldwide who came to San Francisco for a United Nations-sponsored environmental conference.

One scene in the video, intended as a primer on how players should handle the media, shows Reynolds impersonating Newsom as he sits at the mayor's desk.

In another scene dramatizing media relations, Reynolds advises his 49er audience that "what you do is not only a reflection of yourself. It's a reflection of the San Francisco 49ers." Reynolds, wearing only a towel, makes the comment while surrounded by three topless blonds.

There's also a topless lesbian wedding and a joke about bending over for the soap in the showers at the Santa Clara County jail.

Still playing "mayor," Reynolds also appears in a scene at SBC Park, home of the Giants, where he accepts a bribe from a catcher. The mayor also enjoys a lunch of champagne and caviar at taxpayer expense.

And those are just some of the scenes.

A mayoral spokesman said that while the team had received permission to use Newsom's office, city officials thought the purpose was to film an upbeat promotional spot about the team's relationship with the city.

"Needless to say, we were surprised," said the spokesman, Peter Ragone. "What we saw was very disturbing. There's widespread discontent with the video."

After the San Francisco Chronicle received a copy of the video, the football franchise's faux pas was the lead story in the newspaper Wednesday, under the headline "49ers' Personal Foul." The Chronicle posted the video on its website with some images partially obscured, along with a warning about its racy content.

Newsom viewed a copy of the video Tuesday during a visit to the newspaper.

Ragone said all future film projects that use the mayoral office will be reviewed by the city before their release.

Although he called the video a "stupid act," Ragone said, "We don't view this as reflective of the management and ownership of the 49ers, which have a great record of tolerance and diversity."

But others pointed the blame squarely at the 49ers' front office.

"This was not locker room humor; this was front office personnel. The athletes who took part in this skit were asked to do so by the fourth-ranking front office person in the organization," said Harry Edwards, a former UC Berkeley sociology professor and consultant for the 49ers on personnel issues.

Chinese American business officials in San Francisco were particularly incensed by the portrayal by one of the team's Asian trainers as a Chinese man who speaks English with a thick accent and makes numerous X-rated double entendres.

"I'm sitting here dumbfounded," said Rose Pak, head of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, which represents 500 Asian-owned businesses in the city. "You know, this is the 21st Century," she said. "And this is San Francisco, a city where 30% of residents and 40% of schoolchildren are Chinese Americans. In this day and age, for a home-based major sports group to be so insensitive and their behavior so disgusting is beyond words.

"I know thousands of Chinese Americans, and not one of them is bucktoothed."

Ragone said that while none of the visiting mayors brought up the topic with Newsom, many reporters did.

"One thing mayors around the world understand," he said, "is that news doesn't adhere to our timetables."

Glionna reported from San Francisco and Farmer from Los Angeles

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