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Gordon Beckham sorry for gay slur, but he should know better

GordBeckham (right) scratched ‘‘GETZ IS GAY’’ dirt Monday U.S. Cellular Field as gohis friend Chris Getz Kansas City Royals. Beckham

Gordon Beckham (right) scratched ‘‘GETZ IS GAY’’ in the dirt Monday at U.S. Cellular Field as a goof on his friend Chris Getz of the Kansas City Royals. Beckham apologized on Friday. | Getty Images

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Updated: July 10, 2011 2:21AM

There it was, scratched in the infield dirt like hieroglyphs on the Peruvian plain: “GETZ IS GAY! GB.’’

White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham put the message there after the first inning Monday night, leaving it for his good friend Kansas City Royals second baseman Chris Getz.

“Wow,’’ Beckham said, stunned when informed that fans in the upper deck at U.S. Cellular Field noticed his foot scratchings, slowly discerned the politically incorrect joke and found it quite unfunny.

“Wow,’’ said Beckham again, looking as if he had seen a thousand ghosts and Bob Gibson on the mound. “Chris is one of my best friends. It was a joke. I didn’t know anybody could see. I didn’t mean anything, you know?’’

Of course, we know. Or rather, we think we know.

Beckham, the third-year man from the University of Georgia, the White Sox’ first pick in the 2008 draft, is a good kid, well-liked by teammates. He’s smart, personable, and in his last year at Georgia, he was named the Southeastern Conference Baseball Scholar Athlete of the Year.

But maybe, at 24, it’s time to put on the big-boy cap and grow up.

We’re a little sensitive in this country right now about issues and terms that even sniff of homophobia.

“Gay’’ is a word that no longer means what it once meant, and its current meaning is, in a sense, not even pejorative. Indeed, homosexual people rightfully call themselves gay. Nor is it illegal to call another person gay since — because of the federal codes guaranteeing equality of treatment and opportunity to all — gay is not, per se, a negative thing.

But we all know what’s up.

Kids throw the word gay around like a Frisbee.

But it can sting. And you don’t carve it in the orange dust in front of 31,000 people. Even — maybe, especially — as a gag.

Sox general manager Ken Williams sat motionless for a long time Friday afternoon at the Cell, gazing into the sunny outfield from his pregame dugout seat, before uttering a word.

“I was riding my bike down Michigan Avenue at 1 a.m. the other night, clearing my head, thinking about every part of this team,’’ Williams said finally. “Thinking of what could fit here or there, this piece and that, what could go right, what could go wrong, every tiny detail, but I didn’t think of this.’’

Williams shook his head. He spoke then about the way the game has changed, about the constant scrutiny, about the way everything is frantically observed and analyzed and how nothing that goes on at a pro sports venue is private. Maybe nothing, anywhere.

“I’m disappointed,’’ Williams said. “I know Gordon, the man, and I can’t think less of him because I do know him. And I know he and Getz are friends, but we traded Getz and Josh Fields in the offseason [before the 2010 season] for Mark Teahen.

“But I’m just disappointed for this to come on the heels of the Kobe Bryant thing, and [Joakim] Noah, and, yes, a number of years ago, the issue with Ozzie [Guillen]. There just needs to be a greater awareness of when you’re in the public eye. Something between two friends meant as a joke? Well, you’re representing not just yourself, but your team, your sport, your family.’’

Williams thought for a few more moments.

“The organization didn’t do it,’’ he said firmly. “He did it. He should apologize for making us less than what we stand for.’’

The Friday evening game against the Twins is about to start. But Beckham is so rattled he asks Scott Reifert, the Sox’ senior vice president of communications, to please find the newspaper writer and ask him if they can speak again in the tunnel outside the clubhouse.

The writer takes the elevator down from the press box, and he and Beckham sit on chairs in the hallway.

The poor guy looks devastated.

“I just want you to know that that’s not me,’’ he said. “I don’t use slurs. I have a lot of gay friends. I didn’t mean it as anything ­— you know, like gay as in . . . happy! Or, you know, an alliteration — ‘Getz is gay.’ ’’

He should be getting ready to take the field soon, but this is more important to him.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like that with Chris,’’ he said. “And I didn’t even see his reaction. I asked him afterward if he was going to write anything back, and he said no. It was wrong. It was stupid. If I offended anyone, I apologize. I wish I could take it back, but I can’t.’’

You can almost see the gears in Beckham’s mind turning, pondering the odd, frightening implications of doing something thoughtlessly, impishly in public.

“I won’t do that again,’’ he said, almost to himself, hoping, of course, that the dirt has been wiped clean.

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