People operate with inconsistencies and even contradictions in their world views. This is perhaps no more apparent then when sports writers and reporters attempt to weigh in on moral issues. I experienced this first-hand the other day as I listened to ESPN-Radio.
Jeremy Schaap, the reporter from ESPN’s Outside the Lines, has become known for his documentaries on controversies within the sports world. In his recent commentary on The Sporting Life: Parting Shot he took aim at discrimination. Schaap’s point was that on the 65th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball we are reminded that discrimination is alive and well today.
Schaap used words like “hatred, bigotry, prejudice, racism, intolerance and discrimination” to make his point.
His witnesses were Tigers’outfielder Delmon Young and his recent arrest for a hate crime in New York, the Boston Bruins’ fans racial anger on twitter after their team lost, the Saudi Arabian government’s refusal to allow women to participate in the Olympics, and Nebraska assistant Ron Brown’s public opposition to an Omaha City Ordinance allowing increased protection for homosexuals.
Schaap’s contention was that discrimination is wrong. It has no place in sports or society.
The problem is that this is not the way it works. Everyone discriminates. Even Jeremy Schaap (rightly) discriminated against the former Penn State coach Jeremy Sandusky who was accused of horrific sexual crimes against children. Schaap called these things tragic and was all over ESPN reporting on it. He was quite vocal in his lack of support for Sandusky while reporting on the stomach-stirring details that were emerging.
I bring this up to show that everyone discriminates. The only question is whether or not you find someone else’s discrimination to be morally problematic. The answer to this is of course is how it intersects with your world view. In Schaap’s mind he has a big problem with people who would oppose homosexuality. It is contrary to his own moral grounding. However, and for the same reason, he is able to speak out against an accused pedophile. Schaap, and others, discriminate out of their own moral framework.
Instead of baldly saying that discrimination itself is wrong he should acknowledge the moral tension and stand on his own two feet. Go ahead and say actions and attitudes are wrong. Say that you don’t like them and that there should be consequences. Say and do something about it, don’t just hide behind an emotionally charged word like discrimination.
This however, is incredibly difficult and uncommon in our culture. It costs you moral capital to do it. It is far easier (and common) to wield the sword of tolerance than it is to make a moral statement. You can say that someone is not being tolerant but you can’t say they are wrong (Sandusky conveniently excluded). This costs you moral capital.
Where Schaap is intellectually inconsistent Coach Ron Brown, ironically is refreshingly consistent. He actually takes a moral stand and has the courage to call it wrong. You may not agree with him but at least he acknowledges the tension and is honest.
In a weekend letter to the Lincoln Journal Star Brown wrote:
Not all of my players have agreed with the Bible’s views. One example, of many, would be those choosing heterosexual sex outside of marriage. Though the Bible teaches this as sin, I haven’t penalized them with playing time or discrimination of any sort. Because I love them, I’ve invested in them even outside of football and gently asked them to consider God’s view on it.
If I coached a gay player, because the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, I would do the same. If he didn’t agree, I wouldn’t penalize him with playing time or any form of discrimination.
I have and will embrace every player I coach, gay or straight … but I won’t embrace a legal policy that supports a lifestyle that God calls sin.
So yes, Jeremy Schaap is right, discrimination is alive and well in our day. Some of it is for good reason and other times it is not. We would all do well to look for our blind-spots and try to be consistent; spend the moral capital and take the stand. It is far more intellectually honest and convincing than waving the foam bat of intolerance at every opportunity.