Wednesday, May 8, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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M's officials suck it up: Executives change stance on T-shirts worn at Safeco

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Mariners changed to a "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding T-shirts worn at Safeco Field that display any variation of the word "suck."

Unlike the Mariners' homestand against the New York Yankees last month, a smattering of fans wearing "Yankees Suck" or "Mariners Management Sucks" T-shirts were allowed to freely walk into Safeco Field and enjoy last night's game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

"This issue is better off going away," said Randy Adamack, vice president of Mariners communications, while a one-man protest with a megaphone campaigned outside the ballpark for free speech.

Adamack said Safeco Field gate employees were told before yesterday's game not to ask ticket-holders to remove or cover up any T-shirt. During the last of the three games against the Yankees in April, several fans were told to remove or reverse their "Yankees Sucks" tops, which they had purchased outside the stadium. Dave Chesson, a 40-year-old Bellingham resident, was among the group, and he decided to file a claim with the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU is still investigating whether Chesson has a case.

Adamack said the switch to overlooking the Safeco Field Code of Conduct policy had less to do with the national talk about the team's decision to uphold a "family-friendly atmosphere" and more to do with how the disrobing would look at the ticket gate.

"People are coming to the ballpark to have a good time," Adamack said. "We don't need a confrontation at the gate or to create fear. Our policy is still in place, but our employees have been instructed not to ask people to remove or cover up until further notice or possibly ever."

E-mail responses to the Mariners originally banning the shirts were mixed, according to Adamack. The same goes for passersby to mini-protest yesterday.

Not knowing of the change, freelance journalist Matt Villano held a two-hour protest on the corner of Occidental Avenue and Royal Brougham Way across from Safeco Field. Wearing a gray T-shirt that he had printed for $15 with the phrase "Mariners Management Sucks," Villano chanted through a megaphone that "Censorship sucks" and gave dissertations about fascism, the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights.

After handing out fliers with the dictionary definition of "suck" and getting about 100 people to sign a petition noting their disapproval of the Mariners' ban, Villano, 27, staged his entrance to the ballpark wearing a television camera microphone. When he wasn't stopped, he asked why.

"He ignored me," Villano said of the gate employee. "I'm encouraged if they changed the rule. No time supporting free speech is a waste of time."

One benefactor from the "suck" ballyhoo is Mike Prebo, a 55-year-old resident of West Seattle. Prebo has been selling the "Yankees Suck" T-shirts outside a gas station on Occidental Avenue since 2000. During the series against the Yankees, he estimated he sold 600 of the basic tops. He was outside Safeco Field again yesterday, trying to fulfill the demand since the shirt went national.

"It's amazing to me that something so stupid and silly could be so huge," Prebo said. "This is great, national promotion for me.

"Essentially all they (the T-shirts) are is in bad taste, and I'll admit that. But it's a moral issue. And if the Mariners want to make the game more moral, get the players to stop spitting, grabbing and scratching themselves. That's indecent."

Because of the uproar, the shirts are selling on eBay for $20. There's even a Web site that is selling an entire Safeco Field Contraband line of "sucks" merchandise ranging from $12.99 to $20.99.

But Prebo vowed to keep his original $10 price tag.

"I'm not going to capitalize on this," Prebo said.

Now that doesn't suck.


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