It’s Anti-Trust – but I’m still not Anti-Oriole

February 12, 2009 | Drew Forrester

Never liking to mix government with sports, I was a little concerned about launching my “discrimination blog” yesterday morning.  I knew it would potentially create a firestorm.  The e-mails, calls and text messages confirmed that my suspicions were correct.  

I’ve admitted on the air that the entire concept of stepping forward with a civil-rights-violation claim was brought to my attention by a lawyer-friend who chastised me last weekend for being “soft” when I complained about the Orioles not allowing me to cover the team at spring training this year.

“Do you not realize this is an absolute, slam-dunk, classic case of the team restricting your freedom of speech?” he asked.  ”You’re going to let this happen?  You’re going to allow the team to discriminate against you and treat you differently because you happen to point out the downside of the way they do business?  If you continue to ignore the way they’re treating you and you’re not willing to take them to task for that, you have no room to complain about it.”  He’s right.

For the last couple of years, everytime the team and one of their employees treated me differently than, say, they treat Schmuck, Kubatko, Mills or Cunningham, I’d get pissed for a day or two.  72 hours later, I’d just go play golf and forget about the issue(s).  It’s always easy to dismiss people who are unfriendly to you. You just don’t hang out with them anymore.  So, last spring when a high-ranking team official said to me, “We don’t care what you think.  You and your station have one listener.  In fact, I couldn’t care less if I ever see you here in the ballpark again”, I high-tailed it up I-95 and said to myself, “Don’t have to tell me twice…”  And, I stopped going.  Why surround yourself with clowns, unless you’re in the circus making a living from it?

This, though, is a different case.

I’m being restricted from doing my job (Lawyer Jim chimed in yesterday via e-mail and says that’s a no-brainer Anti-Trust lawsuit waiting to happen) because the team doesn’t like the way I report on them.  I’m being discriminated against because the team doesn’t like the way I report on them.

Some of you have claimed that it’s a “WNST thing” and that the team isn’t ever going to afford anyone at WNST with the opportunity to cover the team based on past incidents.  Wrong.  A member of our radio station requested a spring training press credential last week and got a speedy reply:  ”Sure, when are you coming down? (to Ft. Lauderdale)” was the reply.

It’s not a “WNST thing”.  It’s a “Drew thing”.  It wouldn’t be a Drew thing, though, if I were gay.  Or African American. Or Korean.  Or Jewish.  The team would NEVER want to deal with the backlash of mistreating a homosexual.  Or an African American.  Or someone of Jewish descent.

If a female reporter in Baltimore suddenly fell out of favor with the Orioles because she was – in their mind – too critical, they’d never ban her. 

I know I’m right.

They know I’m right.

I applied for a credential to spring training in an effort to cover the team.  I followed the same rules and protocol that every other media member in town followed.  I went to XXXX@orioles.com and requested the credential just like Schmuck, Zrebiec, Coleman, Marks, Garceau, Cunningham, Harris, Ginsburg, Kerzel, Pente and anyone else in town who plans on covering the team in Ft. Lauderdale.

All of those folks received credentials and were treated the same.

I wasn’t treated the same.

They’ve discriminated against me because they don’t like my reporting.  And, I have no fallback position to challenge them on their discriminating practices because I’m just a normal (mostly), sane, dumpy, middle-aged white guy.  

But, they ARE discriminating against me and they ARE violating my rights.  

I know I’m right.

And they know I’m right.

Marcus checked in this morning via the SunTrust text service and said, “If you stopped railroading the team, maybe they’d treat you the same way they treat those other people you keep bringing up.”

Weird.  In the last eight weeks alone, I’ve applauded them for signing Nick Markakis to a contract extension. I’ve openly supported the signing of Ty Wigginton.  I approved of the Pie-for-Olson trade.  I have NOT been enthused with the additions of Uehara, Hendrickson and Hill.  How is observing what the team is doing and offering your opinion of the team – good AND bad – considered by anyone with a brain to be “railroading”?

Fortunately, of the 80 or so responses I’ve received over the last 28 hours via either e-mail or text, I’d say 65 of them are “positive” and 15 are “negative”.  Of the 15 that take exception with my position that the Orioles are discriminating against me, 10 of those 15 are from the same three people.  I guess while folks are fetching coffee and a bagel for Andy at The Warehouse, they have a few spare minutes to pop in at WNST.net and rattle off a comment or two.  

I appreciate the 65 of you who understand that what’s going on with the treatment provided to me by the Orioles is wrong.  I also appreciate the 3 of you who have harangued me because, of course, you are entitled to your opinion.

Unlike the baseball team, I won’t restrict your right to tell me what you think.

A SunTrust texter today wanted to know what Baltimore media members were “behind me”.  Let’s just say this and I’ll do my best not to offend anyone.  There’s really no one behind me.  There’s one local scribe who reached out to me and said, “let me think about this a little bit, maybe there’s something there” (gee, you think?) but other than that, no one is going to probe into this and defend the fact that I’m being mistreated, even though, ironically, it could be THEM in my seat if the situation was different.  Two of the four TV faces in town work for the station that carries Oriole games.  The significant writers in town from The Sun can’t possibly side with me on this one — doing so would put THEM on the team’s hit list, right next to me.  Can you imagine Roch Kubatko of MASN calling out the Orioles for their unprofessional treatment of me?  He’d be called into a meeting faster than Tejada started crying at Wednesday’s plea-session.  The other radio sports talkers in town wouldn’t dare breathe this on their airwaves or support me even though they know I’m right.

Then again, they’re all in the team’s good graces.  Why jeopardize a good thing?  They all know if they side with me that they’ll be discriminated against next.  How do I know that?  Easy.  None of them are chiming in.

Comcast Morning Show producer Glenn Clark is all over me to “run with this” so I now I have the additional pressure of doing right by him.

He’s only 25.  He has a long future in the business.  He’s also opinionated.  And, I’m sure, he probably realizes that this could very well be HIM someday down the road when he’s doing his own show and making daily assessments about a sports franchise.  Glenn knows, particularly if he stays in Baltimore, that it’s looking more and more like you’re not allowed to criticize the baseball team if you want to be treated the same way as the other media members in town.  Glenn knows he’ll probably have to deal with this issue if he ever falls out of favor with the team, assuming all of the same front office parties are still in place.  I’m guessing Glenn wants me to “run with this” so I can clear the path for him and others in the future.

Maybe I owe that to Glenn.  The guy does a helluva job for me.

One thing FOR sure.  And even the grandest of WNST critics know this is accurate.  THIS, the discrimination I’m facing, would NEVER, EVER, EVER happen at 1 Winning Drive in Owings Mills.

I’ve been critical of the Ravens on numerous occasions.  If they don’t re-sign Ray Lewis in two weeks, I’m going to be critical of them again.  Mike Preston of The Sun is regarded by many as the team’s toughest critic and it’s no secret that, from time to time, Preston has faced friction at the facility because of things he’s written or said.  

The Ravens, however, have never once restricted Preston or otherwise made it uncomfortable or difficult for him to do his job.  They don’t send him a birthday card (and vice versa) but they don’t treat him any differently than they treat me or anyone else who hangs out in the media room at Owings Mills.  A lot of people in town have taken issue with Ravens’ hirings, firings, signings, releases, wins, losses, etc. — but no one has ever been discriminated against by the team’s PR/Media department or front office.

It’s simply a case of this:  I’ve been unfairly singled out by the Orioles because of their belief that I’m too critical of them.  

I know that’s true.  One of their recently-departed employees told me so yesterday.  I always knew that was the deal, anyway, but it was comforting (in a weird way) to hear it again from the horse’s mouth.  

There’s only one problem with that.  

It’s wrong.

I have the right to my opinion and I have the right to broadcast it, whether or not it’s applauding the team for signing Nick Markakis or slapping them around for mistreating Brian Roberts and not re-signing him.

Legally, I have the right to be critical of them if the situation calls for it.

Legally, they do NOT have the right to treat me differently because of that.

I’ve learned that – and a lot more – since last Saturday.

I owe a measure of thanks to my lawyer friend who woke me up this weekend.  For the last two years or so, I’ve allowed the Orioles to b**ch slap me and I’ve taken it like a good little boy.  It’s time I took issue with it.

And that, I’m going to do.

Have I mentioned, by the way, that Major League Baseball has known about this saga for 13 months now and they’ve done nothing about it?

I’ll get back to that issue tomorrow.

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