When idiots of yore tossed slurs and epithets at sporting events, they had the sorry excuse of living in an America where segregation not only was common but also legislated.
Impolite folks too ignorant to know better and too lazy to learn routinely wrapped themselves in bigotry, sparing no one, as was discovered by Jewish slugger Hank Greenberg and black pioneer Jackie Robinson.
That was the 1930s and '40s and '50s, when many were denied civil rights and voting rights and the system was contaminated with the poisons of prejudice.
What's the excuse now that we're supposed to be so much more evolved?
Hatred within the sports community isn't gone; it simply has a popular new target. Instead of ethnicity, it's sexuality. With the K-word extinct and the N-word rarely uttered with malice, the new undisputed champion of epithets is the F-word.
Not the four-letter bomb but the homophobic insult comprising six letters.
Pro athletes, many of them among our biggest stars, are in the midst of a staggering run of name-calling, dropping F-words as casually as if ordering a burger and fries. Less than three weeks into July, at least three jocks are vying for Sports Jackass of the Month.
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end James Harrison, a hair-trigger shotgun of a man interviewed for a magazine article, included the F-word in his verbal evisceration of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
in Arizona while recovering from an arm injury, tweeted the F-word presumably describing some, but not all, male students at Arizona State University.
White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham is a distant third in this race because he avoided the F-word. He merely scribbled in the infield dirt "Getz is gay! GB" and left it to be discovered by Royals second baseman Chris Getz.
Insofar as Beckham and Getz are friends, there is no reason to presume malicious intent. No, it was just a tasteless "joke." All three have since offered apologies. That, however, misses the point. Each evidently failed to understand -- or simply didn't care about -- the impact of his words and actions.
When Kobe Bryant slapped a referee with the F-word in April, the NBA slapped back, fining the Lakers star $100,000. When Bulls center Joakim Noah slung the F-word at a heckling fan, the league tossed a $50,000 fine into his lap.
And we didn't forget Philadelphia Eagles star DeSean Jackson, who spent two seasons at Cal. Ticked off by a tacky question from a caller into a radio show June 30, Jackson reacted with, yes, the F-word.
Jackson, too, apologized. How could he not regret the hypocrisy of his words? He is personally engaged in a national anti-bullying campaign, and no group is bullied more than young gay individuals.
Pejoratives have been around from the instant man noticed differences in the way people look, think, behave, walk and talk. It appears we have stumbled onto a trend, public displays of hatred expressed by casual usage of the F-word.
There also are differences, too, in the way people view sexuality. There are those who actually believe Gov. Jerry Brown, by signing Senate Bill 48 -- essentially prohibiting discrimination in education -- is promoting the teaching of "gay history." This ignores the fundamental truth, that gays, like everyone else, are intertwined with history because they, like everyone else, have been present throughout history.
But with public racism driven underground and the N-word reduced to a whisper or dialogue among bigots, homophobia has become the new racism. Contempt once reserved for ethnic minorities and Jews has descended on homosexuality, and the subject ignites overheated debate in the political arena, the church and the locker room.
And we like to think of sports as an island of tolerance. Greenberg and Robinson eventually were accepted. The majority of our sports come in wide variety of ethnic backgrounds and colors.
That's why sports should, once again, take the lead in pulling society's foot-draggers toward greater tolerance.
The Giants last month took a leap, being the first American professional sports team to embrace the "It Gets Better" project, a national anti-homophobia campaign. Pitchers Barry Zito, Matt Cain and Sergio Romo, outfielder Andres Torres and hitting coach Hensley Meulens participated in a video presentation.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Irvin took an even bolder step, appearing on the cover of "Out" magazine, designed for a gay audience. Irvin discusses his gay brother, who died of cancer in 2006, the gap that exists between straights and gays, and the belief that his former Dallas Cowboys teammates would have accepted a gay member.
Moreover, Irvin conceded he is a reformed homophobe now committed to fighting such behavior. My guess, and hope, is in the 21st century he'll have plenty of company.