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Jay Mariotti was having lunch in Keefer’s Kaffe on Kinzie, a ham-and-cheese on panini and a bottled water. Behind him, a big-screen TV flashed images of the White Sox game. He ignored the game. The Sun-Times sports columnist was on vacation, a sudden departure that would stretch to five weeks and spark rumors that he was leaving the newspaper. Or being canned.
As anybody in a Chicago newsroom or pro clubhouse could tell you, Mariotti’s departure would have been met with cheers from many of his colleagues, not to mention the sports figures he bludgeons. And he knows it.
“You’ll be hard-pressed to find anybody in this city who likes me,” said Mariotti. The contempt for Mariotti among writers and sports figures became the talk of the town last June, of course, when Sox manager Ozzie Guillen called the columnist a “fag” during a locker-room tirade. Astonishingly, it was Mariotti who was then put on the defensive.
“Wouldn’t you think the headlines would have been ‘Gay Groups Outraged’?” asks Mariotti. Why did I become the news? Isn’t this a little warped?”
For the slur, Major League Baseball ordered Guillen to attend sensitivity training, which drew mostly chuckles from his fans, while his gay hairdresser was trotted out to say that Ozzie really wasn’t a bigot. Oh, and the hairdresser disliked Mariotti, too.
Mariotti, meanwhile, was ripped by sportswriters coast to coast, from the Washington Post to the Los Angeles Times, for his aversion to visiting the Sox clubhouse. Rivals at the Chicago Tribune knocked him, gleefully publicizing a blog called Jaythejoke.com. And he didn’t escape criticism on the pages of his own Sun-Times, where columnist Rick Telander - he and Mariotti have feuded for years, in some cases verging on fisticuffs - took a written jab at him. Even the Reader piled on, calling Mariotti “a humorless loner.”
When Mariotti suddenly disappeared from the newspaper following the Guillen fracas, it fueled talk that he was leaving the Sun-Times, willingly or not. After all, Mariotti has long battled with his bosses, claiming the paper has been too willing to listen to the complaints of Jerry Reinsdorf, chairman of the Sox and Bulls, and too meek in its support for its own columnist. In late June, Mariotti went public with his beef, telling WSCR radio that his paper had failed to support him adequately after the Guillen slur.