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Sunday, November 24
Hearst: 'I was wrong for saying what I said ...'

Associated Press

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Garrison Hearst made an emotional apology Friday for using a slur and saying he wouldn't want a gay player as a teammate with the San Francisco 49ers.

Appearing visibly shaken by the controversy caused by his pointed remarks to the Fresno Bee three weeks earlier, the 49ers' Pro Bowl running back made a short statement at the team's training complex.

"Being an African American, I know that discrimination is wrong,'' Hearst said. "I was wrong for saying what I said about anybody, any race or any religion. I want to apologize to the San Francisco 49ers organization, the city of San Francisco for the comments that I made, and also to my teammates for bringing this distraction upon us.''

Hearst's remarks on the NFL's latest hot-button issue stirred widespread condemnation -- particularly in the San Francisco Bay area's large and vocal gay community.

"If the team was someplace from the deep South, you might not be quite as surprised. But in San Francisco, this guy ought to know better,'' said Lorri L. Jean, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "He wasn't the first in line when they handed out sensitivity and, clearly, he wasn't the first in line when they handed out smarts.''

Jean said Hearst's attempt to apologize was weak, and said the NFL should take a stand against such discrimination.

"I am sure that although Garrison Hearst doesn't know it, he already is playing with gay players in the NFL,'' she said. "His apology is too little, too late.''

In the wake of Hearst's comments and other incidents over the years, the NFL has decided to include sensitivity training in both the its rookie symposium and individual teams veteran seminars, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports.

The issue of gays in football became a topic of national discussion earlier this season when former NFL defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo revealed his homosexuality. When Hearst was first asked whether he would want a gay player as a teammate, he said he wouldn't, and he twice used a common slur considered derogatory to gays.

Several team officials condemned Hearst's remarks, but coach Steve Mariucci said the running back won't be fined or disciplined by the 49ers. Mariucci also apologized for not addressing the issue sooner.

"I was surprised, because Garrison is one of the most highly respected athletes in the NFL,'' Mariucci said. "He's one of the guys I listen to for his opinions and his maturity.''

Hearst was the NFL's comeback player of the year last season when he rushed for 1,206 yards after missing the previous two seasons with a severe ankle injury. The 10-year veteran also won the team's Len Eshmont award, given annually to the player who "best exemplifies inspirational and courageous play.''

The former Georgia star has been with the 49ers since 1997. He is San Francisco's leading rusher this fall with 592 yards and four touchdowns.

When news of his remarks first surfaced Thursday, Hearst wasn't nearly as contrite, saying only that he was sorry for hurting anyone's feelings. But after several serious discussions with team officials, he took a different public stance.

John York, who owns the 49ers along with his wife, Denise DeBartolo York, issued a statement strongly condemning Hearst's remarks.

"I have spoken to Garrison about his comments and to educate him on the hurtful effect they have had on so many people,'' John York said. ''(I) have talked with him today about discrimination, including the terrible history of discrimination against African Americans, as well as sensitivity and tolerance.''

York also noted the 49ers were the first NFL team to offer domestic partner benefits.

The 49ers held a team meeting on the issue Friday as they continued preparations for Monday night's home game against Philadelphia. San Francisco (7-3) is in first place in the NFC West.

Though the 49ers moved quickly to quell the issue, Hearst voiced an opinion that's almost certainly shared by many NFL players, as some of his teammates and players on other teams have said. Two months ago, New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey apologized for saying he hoped he didn't have any gay teammates.

On Tuesday, the Human Rights Campaign called on NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to make clear that the league will not tolerate harassment or discrimination against gay players.

"If people really know what's going on in the locker room and what we joke about every day, it would be a big deal each and every day,'' 49ers fullback Fred Beasley said. "It's not a big deal to us.''

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