Saturday, May 14, 2011

Interesting Article on Gay Marriage and Sports

From the Calgary Herald:

Marriage debate bodychecks sports figures

By Susan Martinuk

Don't try to debate a controversial social issue on Twitter.

That's the take-away message from today's column, which runs the gamut from hockey to same-sex marriage to Donald Trump and the philosopher Voltaire. Who would ever have guessed that these items would appear in the same column?

It all started when the NHL's Sean Avery appeared in a video for the New Yorkers for Marriage Equality campaign, stating, "I'm Sean Avery and I'm a New Yorker for marriage equality. I treat everyone the way I expect to be treated and that applies to marriage."

Suddenly, Avery, who is known more for creating controversy than his actual hockey ability, was being celebrated for bringing positive attention to an issue that hasn't had much exposure in professional sports.

But a Canadian sports agent named Todd Reynolds had a different opinion. Reynolds, whose agency represents about 10 NHL players, posted the following message on Twitter: "Very sad to read Sean Avery's misguided support of same gender 'marriage.' Legal or not, it will always be wrong."

Not surprisingly, criticism and hate-filled comments began to roll in Reynolds' direction. So he tweeted again: "To clarify. This is not hatred or bigotry toward gays. It is not intolerance in any way, shape or form. I believe we are all equal . . . But I believe in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman. This is my personal viewpoint. I do not hate anyone."

And that's when Rogers Sportsnet television host Damien Goddard entered the fray, tweeting in support of Reynolds with the comment, "I completely and wholeheartedly support Todd Reynolds and his support for the traditional and TRUE meaning of marriage."

The very next day, Rogers Sportsnet played the Donald Trump card and fired Goddard. Of course, the official, public explanation was that "it had become clear that (Goddard) is not the right fit for our organization." But those words didn't exactly cover the giant same-sex marriage elephant that stood in the locker-room.

So much for Voltaire and his, "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it" quote that is supposedly a bedrock principle of freedom of expression.

Before the hate mail starts flowing in my direction, let's consider the fact that this issue remains controversial and divisive.

A 2010 Angus Reid Global Monitor poll showed only 36 per cent of American respondents believed that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. In Canada, that same poll showed that 61 per cent support our current laws, which allow same-sex marriage.

That means the comments made by Reynolds and Goddard would have the support of 64 per cent of Americans and 39 per cent of Canadians. Such numbers are by no means insignificant.

Gay marriage even remains controversial in the liberal mecca of California, where a 2008 vote on the issue resulted in a prohibition on the legalization of such unions. Gay marriage is legal in Canada, but it remains illegal in 41 states of the United States. A 1996 U.S. federal law called the Defense of Marriage Act remains in place and it defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.

Most troublesome is the generalized assumption that Reynolds and Goddard are homophobic and Rogers' apparent acceptance of the idiotic notion that no one should ever have to be offended by what they hear. Reynolds, in particular, made it clear that his issue was with the act of marriage and not with individual homosexuals.

Ironically, a Canadian broadcaster would rather toss aside the whole idea of free speech than risk offending anyone.

Purging those who disagree with the current zeitgeist doesn't exactly make Rogers Sportsnet the poster child for tolerance or freedom of speech.

The idea that we can express conflicting ideas is supposedly at the heart of the right to exercise freedom of speech. But that individual right is lost when we shut down ideas we disagree with and society's freedom itself is diminished when the public loses access to all ideas in a public debate.

Susan Martinuk's column appears every Friday.

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

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