After Michael Sam became the first openly gay player drafted to the NFL and kissed his partner on ESPN in celebration, straight men took to social media to express their disgust. Many former and current athletes weighed in on the kiss, including Miami Dolphins Don Jones. As a result, the Dolphins sanctioned Jones with a fine and sensitivity training.
Then Cincinnati Enquirer sports columnist Paul Daughtery defended Jones, claiming Jones’s punishment “exemplifies a troubling trend.” He wrote:
From [Washington Redskins owner] Dan Snyder to [L.A. Clippers owner] Don Sterling to the Augusta National Golf Club, we’ve been told how to think and behave, by those who would presume to know. They are preaching tolerance, or at least their brand of it, which amounts to this: I will tolerate your point of view, as long as it’s in line with mine.
Naturally, I was outrages. Cincinnati is my hometown. As a youth, I shared community with Daugherty. I furiously began writing an email in response, expressing my disdain and explaining some cold, hard facts. Within a few hours, my letter was on the front page of the Enquirer website:
I have the highlights below, but you can read the full letter on Cincinnati.com:
I’m writing because I’m appalled at your column about Dolphins player Don Jones’s comments about Michael Sam, the first out gay NFL player.
You wrote: “Jones isn’t a radical. Lots of people think the way Don Jones thinks. Do they all need to be re-educated, too?” The answer is yes. A reverberating yes.
Negative attitudes toward LGBT people are dangerous. They manifest themselves as hate crimes, discrimination and harassment.
Cincinnati in particular is a hot bed for this. Just look at Article XII, an amendment to the city charter that banned any sort of LGBT protections in legislation. Or the hate crimes in the area, including one that happened at the University of Cincinnati while I was a student. Or the multiple gay marriage bans in Ohio.
In your column, you mention to the popular rebuttal of the LGBT tolerance narrative: “LGBT people are intolerant because they don’t tolerate people who disagree with them.” I don’t even really know what you’re defending here. The right of straight NFL players to be publicly disgusted by a gay player? Or to object to a gay player kissing his partner on TV? Or to not want to play alongside a gay player? Or to just denigrate another player for his sexuality? Or to disrespect the LGBT community at large? To want to keep LGBT people from playing football?
Would you be supporting Jones’s comments if he were talking about race? [Editor’s Note: The answer is apparently not, as Daughtery defended the Washington Redskins owner.]
Not that it matters. Just because an opinion is popular doesn’t make it right.
And tolerance? Anyone who is willing to tolerate me and my community can save it. I deserve to be respected, not merely tolerated. People tolerate their neighbor playing music too loudly or long lines at the grocery store. You don’t tolerate people’s identities.
And before anyone claims I’m being intolerant, let me explain that the views of the majority group are widely accepted and renowned as valid, or else they wouldn’t be the majority. By me speaking out against your views, you are in no way threatened. I know you might think you are because you’re not used to people challenging you because you’re in the majority, but trust me, you’re fine.
I also gather that in your column, you‘re not necessarily agreeing with Jones, you’re more defending his right to speak out. As far as the Dolphins go, they can do pretty much whatever they want. The NFL is a business. And if they think homophobia is bad for the bottom line, they will take steps to combat it. Jones’s employment with the Dolphins is dependent upon his performance on the field and reflecting the brand positively. If he doesn’t do that, the Dolphins can fine him or fire him or order him to undergo sensitivity training. And they won’t have violated the law.
And as far as freedom of speech goes, the First Amendment only applies to censorship by the government — a private organization doesn’t have to give anyone a platform to speak freely. Just like The Enquirer has the right to censor your columns or to refuse to print my letter.
Daugherty sent me a personal response:
I have no issues with Sam or who he chooses to love/partner with. I have issues with the morality police who would presume to tell everyone how to think. This is a volatile issue, obviously, and no, I don’t agree with what Jones did. But I don’t feel he needs to be re-educated on the subject. My opinion. Have a nice day. Best of luck.
Average Cincinnatians wrote to me, thanking me for my letter and sharing their stories. They were touching and personal, many of which I am reluctant to share here publicly. But I understand their sentiment: I was able to put into words what they were feeling, some of whom for decades, and that meant something.
Even the comments section was full of support and surprisingly reasonable dissent. It shows me how much attitudes toward LGBT people have changed since I started this blog, particularly in Cincinnati. When the Enquirer interviewed me for a story on Cincinnati Guerrilla Queer Bar in 2009, the comments were appalling, laced with misogyny, homophobia, fire and brimstone. The conversation degenerated to conservative Christian values versus crazy queers, referencing Nazi Germany and fascism. It wasn’t cute.
But not this time. This time, I’m glad I read the comments. They gave me hope and insight into the changing climate in Cincinnati and cities like it.