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For Ryan, a harsh but righteous punishment

Boston Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan was punished harshly for a moment of temporary insanity. A one-month suspension without pay is serious business.

Was it justified? Absolutely. Ryan is a terrific sportswriter, recognized as one of the best in the country a few years ago by the now-defunct media magazine Brillís Content. But there was no excuse for Ryanís going on Sports Final Sunday night, on WBZ-TV (Channel 4), and proclaiming that heíd like to "smack" Joumana Kidd, the wife of New Jersey Nets star Jason Kidd.

Say what you want about the dumbed-down, testosterone-fueled outrageousness of sports talk shows. Sports Final isnít really like that, and host Bob Lobel all but got down on his knees and begged Ryan to take back his weird outburst.

"I think itís appropriate for the paper to send a message that any kind of reference to abusing women isnít funny and it isnít entertaining," says Peter Roby, director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society, at Northeastern University. "Too many people suffer from abuse in their relationships, and we need to do whatever we can to eliminate it." By singling out Joumana Kidd, whose abuse at the hands of Jason Kidd is well-known, Ryan only made matters that much worse, Roby adds.

Ryan himself appears to understand that. "It was, of course, atrocious judgment on my part," he said in a statement released Tuesday night by the Globe. "I wish to state clearly that I am aware of the very real problem of violence against women in our society, and that in no way is it a joking matter. I apologize to Mrs. Kidd, and to all women, for my remark." Added editor Marty Baron: "Bob Ryanís comments were a clear and egregious violation of the standards of the Boston Globe. Bob has been told in no uncertain terms that his remarks were offensive and unacceptable."

In response to e-mail queries ó including a question as to why the Globe did not write about Ryanís outburst on Tuesday, a day when both the Boston Herald and the New York Post weighed in on the matter ó Baron declined to comment beyond his remarks in the Globeís statement. Nor could Ryan be reached before deadline by either phone or e-mail. Don Skwar, the Globe's assistant managing editor for sports, in an e-mail, declined to comment, saying only "the Globe has said what it is going to say about the situation."

The fact that Boston Herald columnist Gerry Callahan, co-host of the trash-talking, homophobic Dennis & Callahan show on WEEI Radio (AM 850), would write in Ryanís defense on Wednesday morning says all you need to know. Callahan worked himself into a fury because Ryan received a tougher punishment for talking about domestic abuse than Jason Kidd did for actually committing it. So the Globe has higher standards for its employees than the Phoenix Suns do. Is that somehow supposed to be a bad thing?

Whatís mind-boggling about this is that Ryan is not some knuckle-dragging throwback to the bad old days of hard-drinking, two-fisted sportswriting. He is, in fact, as modern as they get, a man who writes with genuine passion and deep knowledge about sports, especially basketball ó and who has often written about his appreciation for women athletes.

Take, for instance, a column he wrote in December 1998, when the womenís American Basketball League folded, leaving the field to the WNBA. "These women are crusaders and standard-bearers for female athletes of all description," he wrote. "You can call it an athletic version of Ya-Ya Sisterhood, if you like. These women have been playing to satisfy themselves, to put food on the table, and to prove a point. That point is that women can play basketball very well and that theirs is a game with its own essence and own specific entertainment value."

So there were David Robichaud, Gail Huff, Scot Yount, and all the rest doing their stand-ups in front of the Globe this week, updating viewers on the fate of yet another miscreant Globe columnist. It is a sorry category that Iím sure no one ever expected would include Ryan. Heís got only himself to blame, of course, but the outburst that got him into so much trouble was completely uncharacteristic.

I hope he comes back stronger than ever ó and that he thinks twice before opening his mouth in front of a microphone again.

Issue Date: May 9 - 15, 2003
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