This is not a baseball post. If legal and political issues tangentially connected to sports are not your thing, feel free to move along right now.
Jemele Hill is a columnist for ESPN.com, with which we are, of course, affiliated. From everything I’ve seen (which isn’t a ton, I have to admit, not really being a fan of any of the lesser, non-baseball sports), she does a fine job. None of what follows is meant as a personal attack on Hill (or a professional one, apart from the one piece that is the subject of this post), or a criticism of ESPN itself.
She posted a column today, though — well, yesterday, but the date on it is June 22 for some reason, so I’ll pretend it was today to make this seem more current — that discussed former NFL wide receiver David Tyree and his controversial public stance against gay marriage. And putting aside how you feel about that subject (though I suspect a lot of my feelings will come through here), the whole premise and virtually every word of the piece struck me as deeply, deeply flawed, and I feel I have to say something about it.
Tyree was speaking before the “National Organization for Marriage” recently, and said some things that suddenly gave people a reason to care who David Tyree was again, including that gay marriage would lead to “anarchy.” He has since reinforced those with more, similarly strong statements against same-sex marriages.
I hope you’ll go over and read the full article, because I don’t have much choice but to selectively quote Hill here:
Tyree’s comments have, predictably, generated two reactions: disdain and ridicule.
I’m going to try a different reaction: acceptance.
It’s easy to applaud an athlete who supports, say, voter registration, or raises money for cancer or other causes considered safe and politically correct….
But it isn’t so easy to be on board when an athlete voices opinions on emotional issues such as abortion, race or same-sex marriage. Those are topics that could, with a few words, change the perception of who an athlete is — which seems to be happening with Tyree.
And I’m already confused. By saying “it’s easy” to applaud athletes’ charitable efforts but “isn’t so easy” to applaud Tyree’s politically charged opinions, what she seems to be saying is that every public act of any kind by an athlete, or maybe any time he or she “takes a stand” against something (whatever that means), is equally worthy of support and praise. And I’m just having a hard time seeing how anyone can support a position like that. I mean, we’re all proud of Tim Wakefield for all the work he does for New England children, so why can’t we get behind Logan Morrison’s quest to uncover the truth about horseshoes? It’s just not the sort of thing that naturally follows.Hill starts to get to what she means a bit further down:
I’m not here to defend or dismiss Tyree’s opinions. But it’s worth pointing out that if you’re truly a proponent of free speech and have no issue with athletes using their influence to try to effect social and political issues, that means accepting it when athletes champion a side that makes us uncomfortable, too.
So this isn’t utter nonsense (literal “non-sense,” as in words that simply don’t go together), as it appeared above. Rather, it’s what appears to me to be a mistaken combination of two very, very, very different concepts. What Hill seems to be saying is that if we’re going to support proponents of popular causes, we need to support proponents of unpopular ones, too, and ones we disagree with, because that’s the essence of free speech. Which, if “support” meant “tolerate the existence of,” would be absolutely right. But there’s no indication here that that’s what she means at all. Tyree hasn’t claimed he’s been getting death threats, or that anyone in any position of authority has attempted to interfere with his right to be heard. If you’re truly a proponent of free speech, you have to recognize that it applies to Tyree just as to everyone else, and that within the certain very broad limits the Supreme Court has laid out, he has the right to say whatever he wants. But that’s all it means. If I disagree with what Tyree says — if, say, as a Christian I find his religious stance on it extremely dubious, if I find all the arguments in favor of banning same-sex marriage entirely unsupportable by logic or any kind of remotely consistent theory and therefore must conclude that every stance against same-sex marriage stems on some level from bigotry, hatred, fear, discomfort, homophobia, whatever you want to call it — then there is absolutely nothing that says I need to support or even “accept” him. FREEDOM OF SPEECH (the basic idea that all people are free to say whatever they like) is, I think, an absolute good; free speech (whatever nonsense comes out of some poor prejudiced and undereducated soul’s mouth) is most certainly not. In fact, I think, Hill’s position argues for the exact opposite of freedom of speech. “If you’re truly a proponent of free speech” and support Tyree’s right to “champion a side that makes us uncomfortable,” then that also means supporting others’ right to call him an idiot, a bigot, a brainless zealot, or any number of other names for his taking that side. It’s pretty simple, really: if free speech can’t be countered by opposing free speech, then we don’t really have free speech at all.She ends with this:
Tyree is being depicted as an uninformed religious zealot, but at least he’s up-front. He helped deliver thousands of petitions against the same-sex marriage bill and joined the National Organization for Marriage at a recent news conference in Albany.
That doesn’t sound like someone who is crazy. Rather, it sounds like someone who isn’t going to back down from what he believes.
This is the hardest part to swallow, to me. It gets back to that nonsensical idea hinted at above, that merely standing up for something, simply not backing down from what one believes, is an inherently good thing worth admiration or celebration. Which, of course, is silly, as is the suggestion that A. “someone who is crazy” and B. “someone who isn’t going to back down from what he believes” are in any way mutually exclusive; aren’t people who take fierce and immutable stances on things more likely to be crazy? Didn’t Charles Manson meet both A and B? Don’t most would-be political assassins? Didn’t Hitler?Which isn’t at all to compare Tyree to any of those people, just to point out that one can be simultaneously crazy and rigidly principled, and in fact, I think those two are more likely to go together than not (which would be why “fanatic,” another word basically meaning “crazy,” is so often applied to people who rigidly adhere to their ideals). So, again, I’m not seeing the motivation to automatically respect and accept Tyree’s beliefs here. If you think he’s crazy, go ahead and exercise your free speech and call him crazy.Tyree has the right to keep speaking out against gay marriage to his heart’s content in this lovely country of ours: up it, down it, side-to-side and diagonally (though I don’t think he’d be as well received in the corners). And I certainly hope no one is seriously arguing he doesn’t. But everyone so inclined has an equal right, in all those same places, to tell him he’s wrong, or insensitive, or just plain stupid if they want to. The price of free speech, to Tyree and to all of us, is having to put up with other people’s free speech. And I’m certainly not going to “respect” someone just for having “convictions,” if I find those convictions to be baseless, bigoted and hateful. Feel free, of course, to disagree, and loudly.