Millen Controversy Slowing Down

Lions' GM's remarks wreaked havoc initially, but likely won't cost him his job.

The Lions finally came up with something to take the attention off their 4-10 season and their 23-game road losing streak. Unfortunately for team president/CEO Matt Millen, it would have been better for all concerned if the distraction had never occurred.

For the third time in the past two years, Millen stirred a national controversy reflecting poorly on himself, the Lions and Lions ownership.

A year ago it was Millen's comments to Mike Ditka on a Chicago sports talk show referring to an unidentified Lions player as a "devout coward" and wondering aloud, "Where are you testicles?" that got him in hot water with the team and the media.

Last February, it was Millen's decision to hire Steve Mariucci -- without conforming with the minority hiring guidelines (although he insists he tried) -- that got him a scolding and a $200,000 fine from NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

And now he's paying the price for an ill-advised verbal exchange with Kansas City wide receiver Johnnie Morton, a former Lions player released by Millen in March, 2002, after the Lions' 45-17 loss Sunday in Kansas City.

Millen, while congratulating several Chiefs players and wishing them well in the playoffs, tried to get Morton's attention.

Morton, still chaffing from the way he was treated by Millen, ignored Millen's overture, then -- as he was walking into the locker room -- shot back at him: "Kiss my ass."

To which Millen foolishly responded: "You faggot! Yeah, you heard me. You faggot!"

The comments, overheard by a member of the Kansas City public relations staff and a radio reporter from a Kansas City station, were published and both parties -- Millen and Morton -- confirmed the essence of the exchange, touching off another Millen uproar.

Although several media outlets locally and nationally called for Millen to resign or be fired, it appears unlikely that will happen.

The fact that Millen apologized twice in less than 24 hours apparently appeased some of the people who would seem to have been most offended.

Sean Kosofsky, the policy director of the Triangle Foundation, a gay and lesbian advocacy group, said he did not feel it was necessary to call for Millen's firing.

"Sometimes we all say things we don't mean," Kosofsky said. "We don't believe Millen harbors any animus toward gays or lesbians."

Millen has not answered reporters' questions since the incident but apparently thrashed it out with owner William Clay Ford during their weekly Monday session.

Ford has not talked publicly about it either but -- in all likelihood -- will view it much as he viewed Millen's "devout coward" comments -- as locker-room talk that comes off worse than intended.

Those who know Millen realize he always has been and still is -- in spite of his lofty title as Lions president -- a locker-room kind of guy. As a player, when he had differences with a teammate or an opponent, there were two ways of settling it -- a nasty insult or a fight.

At least, he's past the fighting stage.

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