Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I Will Not Respect David Tyree's Convictions

By Bill

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, 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.


The Common Man said...

The Common Man is exceedingly glad you wrote this, Bill, and agrees completely.

Jemele and others who defend Tyree miss a crucial point. Of course David Tyree is free to say what he wants, but just because he does so does not mean that he is immune from criticism for what he says and what he believes. If he wants to be against gay marriage, a position which TCM considers indefensible in a secular country, he has to be able to defend his beliefs, just as The Common Man does his own. And he has to accept the fact that he will be criticized, just as any citizen should when they put forth a controversial opinion. Especially if he's going to say something utterly idiotic like same-sex marriage would lead to "anarchy."

Kevin S. said...

What's more, the anti-gay lobby tends to only throw up the "free speech" claptrap once they've gotten their own digs in. When Sean Avery came out in support of gay marriage, a hockey agent in Canada made some fairly disgusting remarks on Twitter criticizing Avery, then cried foul when the public turned against him. Hey, buddy, they did the same thing to you that you did to Avery, and both times nobody's rights were infringed upon. You do not get to say your bit and then cut off the rest of the discussion.

Anonymous said...

While it's true that somebody should be ready to accept the criticism that comes with a controversial stance, is it the same as being ready to accept the more emotionally charged personal insults that will inevitably be hurled his way?

To me the seperation should come at the point where you stop criticizing the logic behind his beliefs comparred to criticizing the man himself.

When a public figure (however well known before hand) makes a statement such as this, the natural response tends to be to tear into the speaker and dismiss them as some sort of radical bigot.

But that does nothing to help overcome the overall mentality. Intsead of just saying "Tyree is a bigot and should be criticized" the focus should instead be "Why does Tyree feel this way and how can we educate not just him, but those who share the belief?"

It only further polarizes the opposing views when the focus is on personal attacks comparred to attacking the logic itself.

The Common Man said...


While no one should threaten David Tyree or his family, The Common Man does not believe that every argument should be made with civility, nor does anyone have an obligation to try and "convert" Tyree or his supporters.

Indeed, as you can see from the logical inconsistencies in the anti-marriage equality argument, simply pointing out these inconsistencies and trying to convince people who allow themselves to be swayed by fear and bigotry is not a winning strategy.

To put this another way, mocking and deriding David Tyree and those who support him isn't done to try and convince him to change his mind, but to convince anyone who is undecided about the issue how truly stupid, non-sensical, and bigotted his position is.

Bill said...

Thanks for the comments.

Anonymous, those are fair points. While yes, I do absolutely believe he should be ready to accept the personal attacks--that's part of taking a controversial public stance in a free society, and it's hard to have sympathy for him when his stance demeans and oppresses a whole group of people--those attacks certainly aren't the most constructive way to go about it.

But that's a different issue, right? Hill's column has no hint of a suggestion that we should be educating Tyree, or simply making our criticisms less emotionally charged. Rather, the clear suggestion, to me, is that we shouldn't criticize him at all, but rather should "accept" and "get behind" his comments out of respect for freedom of speech and for this bold stance he's taking. So the point of this piece isn't so much the best way to overcome the mentality, but rather what "free speech" actually means.

And it's a tricky line to toe for me anyway (as TCM gets at just above). On one hand, I'm a big fan of civil discourse and all that, but on the other, (a) it is, in my opinion, a fundamentally bigoted position, and permitting one side to spout off at will while the other side can't simply call it what it is seems wrong, and (b) because most of the support from that position comes not from reason but from a hatred of or at least a general ookiness about gays, there tends to be little to gain by trying to change their minds with logic anyway. While the effort to do so is a noble one, I don't think it's all that important, as eventually I have faith that these are constitutional issues that will be decided the right way by the courts with or without popular support, just as so many other civil rights issues have been.

Josh said...

One more thing about Jemele Hill that bothers me here, the whole "hey, I'm not going to defend his beliefs" bit in an article surrounded by statements that defend Tyree left & right. It's very easy to read this article as not just defending Tyree's right to say what he has said but actually approving of it...with an attempt to innoculate herself from criticism by framing this as just reportage. I don't think so.

Columnists take editorial positions when they choose their topics and how they frame their story, and AS columnists and not reporters they have ample opportunity to take a stand on the content of their piece. Hill tries to dodge the issue by trying to claim the only thing she's addressing his the free speech issue...but I'm not buying. She gave Tyree's views a national platform, gave them a veneer of approval and then tried to act like she wasn't taking any sides on the issue.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the responses TCM & Bill.

If the goal is to show those who are undecided which is the more intelligent or well-formed opinion, I've always felt it's best to stick to the issues instead of resorting to name calling.

While it's true that you can't come back at somebody with logic when they build their stance on an emotional standpoint, you an at least present your views as more well-reasoned not only with a well built argument, but by also maintaining the higher ground and staying away from the personal attacks.

It's similiar to how one handles a troll on the Internet. Instead of engaging their ignorance with hatred, you just let their actions speak for themselves.

And Bill, I agree that there's a lot of doublespeak in Hill's column. I think they've completely missed the boat on the point of the whole "Not agree with what you say but defend your right to say it" stance.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bill,

Very interesting post. I'm glad I sat down and read it. I completely agree with the points made and just had another to add. How is Tyree's position bold? It seems to me that there is a large amount of the population that agrees with him.... I don't understand how this is viewed as stepping up and taking a stand. Just my two cents. If I go any further, my politics will spill out.

Bill said...

Thanks, other Anonymous. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

And that's a good point, too. He's not exactly stepping out on a limb here, nationally speaking, and especially not by doing it in front of something called the National Organization for [some] Marriage[s]. The comments to Hill's piece (which mostly go "I'm not a homophobic or a bigot, but [homophobic bigotry]") make it all too clear that "unpopular" isn't really the right adjective here.

David said...

Great post, as someone who has worked in the gay rights community here in MN we see vitriol and hate spewed from really only one side.

Unfortunately, well thought out and reasoned arguments appeal to on (a good day) approx. 40% of the population. How else do you explain people's belief, to this day that the President is a Muslim?

All that being said I'm glad to see this being discussed on more than just political blogs. People like Mr. Tyree will soon find themselves on the wrong side of history.

Lackey said...

Thank you for expressing these sentiments so eloquently. I know, as a lawyer, there are probably two legal issues that are bandied about in popular culture that people continuously misunderstand:

(1). Free speech.
(2). Innocent until proven guilty/reasonable doubt. (I'll save that rant for another day--but I'll note that I once went through an email exchange with Jemele Hill on precisely this issue, under nearly identical circumstances--I will say she was very polite).

All too often, criticizing another person's rationale for an illogical position is met with indignation and the invocation of the right to free speech. The right to speak is wholly distinct from the wisdom of the idea being espoused. I'm at a loss to explain why this concept is so difficult.

Cory Curren said...

One positive aspect of this whole debacle is another outpouring of support from the athletic community against bigotry. Hopefully Jemele Hill will someday understand that there's a difference between not "accepting it when athletes champion a side that makes us uncomfortable" and fairly deriding an individual's particular belief which inherently promotes the denial of another individual's rights. David Tyree is free to push whatever opinions he likes, but he also has to accept that by saying he world trade his iconic catch for a ban on gay marriage, he has actually traded away the memory of that catch for nothing but the revelation that he's on the wrong side of history. At least to the rational folk.

Anonymous said...

While he should expect some controversy surounding his opinions, he shouldnt have to expect personal insults thrown his way for this one opinion. I am pro gay marriage and do think he deserves some respect for standing up for his opinions because I dont actively promote my stance. Also seeing how the majority of states dont allow gay marraige we are in the minority that believes in iy\