Controversial 49ers Video Draws More Than 200,000 Hits

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By: Joe Strupp

Portions of a San Francisco 49ers training video that has sparked criticism from gay-rights groups and city officials for its racism and nudity were viewed more than 200,000 times today after being posted on the San Francisco Chronicle Web site, editors said.

“There were a lot of discussions about it in the newsroom, questions about its suitability,” Editor Phil Bronstein told E&P about the decision to place it online. “The Web can have different standards not covered by the FCC.”

The controversial video, which contains lesbian soft-core porn, ethnic slurs, and a mock gay wedding, was sent anonymously to Chronicle columnists Philip Matier and Andrew Ross, who wrote about the in-house video in Wednesday’s paper. The same day, the video was placed on the paper’s Web site, www.sfgate.com.

The accompanying story drew more than 125,080 page views, according to editors, who said Wednesday was one of the Web site’s busiest days ever.

Bronstein said the paper chose to provide the video — in eight different segments — on the Web so that readers could get a complete look at what it contained. “It is a little like a document,” the editor explained. “The Web allows us to post documents when you don’t have space [in the paper] and it was the equivalent of that. In this case, it was the video and it let people make up their own minds.”

Those who seek to view the video segments, which are available free of charge, must first agree to a disclaimer that warns of sexually explicit material and offensive language. Bronstein said he sought the disclaimer, which was written with input from the paper’s Web editor and attorney.

“We talked to our attorney about it and about privacy issues,” Bronstein added, noting that the faces of some of the women in the video were obscured to protect their privacy.

The video, which was shown to 49er players last summer during training camp, was meant to advise them in dealing with the media, the Chronicle reported. But the 15-minute film, which spoofs San Francisco and Mayor Gavin Newsom with off-color jokes involving Asians, a phony gay wedding, and other tasteless humor, drew complaints from the mayor’s office and other city leaders.

It also resulted in the firing of 49er public relations director Kirk Reynolds, who portrayed Newsom in the video.

Bronstein said reaction has been heavy, but mixed with e-mails and letters running almost equally in support of and opposition to the video being posted.

“It has to do with the football team, which is always popular and it is controversial,” Bronstein said. “Some people feel we should have played it as we did, and there are others who are upset with the team. Most of the complaints to us were that we overplayed it. I think it was appropriate to do.”

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