Oct 112012
 

Why do I have a feeling that this is going to be a recurring subject line in the Rat’s Lair?

Regular readers will recall that a couple of months ago (August 15 to be exact), I went after Chad Johnson, Robert Griffin III, and Mohamed Massaquoi for stupid things that each had said/done. Johnson was coming off the head-butting incident with his wife, Griffin had uttered the word “retarded” in a post-game conference, and Massaquoi decided Pat Shurmer is too old to be cool. Had Massaquoi gone after Shumrmer’s coaching abilities, I might have agreed with him, but he was picking on Shurmer for being too old to get “Twiter.”

Which brings us to today’s column, and my assertion that maybe some players should not be allowed to use Twitter.

Let me start with a disclaimer, before Patriots’ fans start sounding off. I have been a Patriots’ fan far longer than most of you have been alive. I was born in 1963 and became a Patriots’ fan in 1975. That means I have been religiously following the Patriots for 37 of my 49 years. I suffered through all of the dark times with the team and the fans in the 1970s, watched our team reach the Super Bowl in the 1980s only to get blown out by the Bears, and then to return a decade later and lose what was a winnable Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers. I watched as Bill Parcells threw his fit and went the Jets, and then endured three years of Pete Carroll being a nice guy but an ineffective head coach before Bill Belichick took the reins and turned everything around. He was the person who helped Robert Kraft realize the dream he had when purchasing the team, and the Patriots’ have enjoyed nearly unparalleled success during the Belichick era.

So for those of you who may disagree with what I am about to write, you should probably resist the urge to call me a “bandwagon fan” or otherwise impugn my loyalty to the organization. I am as loyal to the laundry as anyone is, but when I see players acting stupidly, I will call it out. And when those players are Patriots, I will take personal offense, because that is not what the Patriots’ organization is known for, nor what it expects from its players and coaches.

With that said, let’s move on to our not-so-illustrious winner of the newly named Just Shut ‘Yer Mouth Award.

Brandon Spikes, New England Patriots

To offer some back story, last year Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski was engaged in a conversation with his brother Chris via Twitter. At one point in the conversation, Gronk referred to something his brother had said as “that’s so gay”, a not uncommon insult in our society. I (and presumably others) tweeted back to Gronk that the use of the term wasn’t cool, and I noted it did not represent the Patriots well. Gronk did not respond to me personally, but did immediately remove the tweet and end the discussion. I must admit I was a little ticked at Gronk, but was also willing to chalk it up to Gronk being young and not completely understanding how his words mattered. Yes, it was a conversation with his brother, but he was choosing to have it in a forum he knew was being viewed by many thousands of people. Bad choice, but Gronk learned, and I have never seen another tweet like that from him again; he got it.

Enter Brandon Spikes. Yesterday he thought he was being funny when he posted the following tweet:

I’m homophobic just like I’m arachnophobic.I have nothing against homosexuals or spiders but I’d still scream if I found one in my bathtub !

On the whole, this comment is not necessarily an anti-gay slur, but it certainly suggests a particular perspective on the part of Mr. Spikes. I should note that while Spikes is known to be a fiercely-hitting linebacker for the Pats, he is widely regarded off the field as a nice guy and gentleman. He is also a frequent jokester on Twitter, and many of his jokes are considered funny but offensive. But judging from some of his other tweets, I also know him to be socially aware, whether he is posting on it being national Stop Bullying Month, or noting inappropriate comments of a legislator in Arkansas on the issue of slavery. My point is that Spikes isn’t stupid. I can appreciate that he thinks (as he later wrote) that this was just a joke, but perhaps Spikes can begin to appreciate that the subject matter of the joke was wholly unnecessary.

Some of the responses to his tweet were very direct.
From Tyler Taake:

Gay jokes, how clever…remember you are a rode model for kids around the world. October is also anti-bullying month.

From Alden Morris:

Your homophobic jokes make me as a New England Patriots fan for most of my life ashamed. I hope the Patriots suspend you.

and…

Its a game that represents a product of integrity making homophobic jokes as a professional is a disgrace to that product.

My own tweet to Spikes was direct but not insulting:

Really dude? Love you as a player, but kill the joke-telling. (Note: Here is a screen shot of the Tweet, captured after Spikes protected his account)

My point in making that comment was to get Spikes to consider whether or not the joke that he thought was funny really needed to be told in the Twitter environment.

Spikes’ reaction to my tweet suggested otherwise:

Bite me!!

Bite me? Really?

My response…

Gronk at least had the good sense to learn from tweeting about gays. Check in with him about that.

Predictably, many of the tweets were highly supportive of Spikes’ ability to make that comment and to not conform to the “pc” agenda, and those of us who were critical must be “haters”. But let’s look at the quality of that crowd, shall we?

One direct reply to me came from Brad (BradGeez23):

shu up you gay rat

Wow… how can you argue with logic like that?

Here’s news for you, Mr. Spikes; if that is the quality of the person you are being defended by in this instance, you might want to reconsider the company you keep, or at least the content of the messages that you post in a public forum.

This incident just confirms my belief that the NFL is not ready for gay players to “come out” in a public way, despite the hopeful and well-intentioned wishes of Brendon Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe. There is not only open hostility and judgment in NFL locker rooms and among the fan base, but also the equally destructive under current of joking that either reinforces intolerance or that reinforces the idea that it’s ok to joke publicly about a subordinated group of people in our society.

For those who see this as an issue of free speech, yes Mr. Spikes has the right to say what he thinks and believes. But what most people fail to point out after making a free speech claim is that Mr. Spikes also has to now face the consequences of his communication. And telling that joke, as a public representative of the New England Patriots, invites an entirely different level of scrutiny and accountability than if the same joke was tweeted by a private citizen speaking on his or her own behalf and without a visible affiliation to his or her employer. Freedom to speak does not equal freedom to speak without consequences.

To be clear, though not that it matters, I don’t have a personal stake in this fight. I am not gay and have no idea what it means to be gay. But being committed to a world that is socially just means fighting for what is what is right for all in society, not just for those who benefit from privilege. I don’t have to have a personal stake in this to speak out publicly when I perceive that a public figure (which Mr. Spikes is) is using his public profile as a representative of a professional organization to communicate a poor joke about gays. Mr. Spikes, I ask you to substitute the words “black guys” for “homosexuals”, put the words in a tweet from a white guy, and ask yourself how you would feel.

It is my intent to communicate this article both to Mr. Spikes and to the Patriots’ organization. It is my hope that Mr. Spikes will reconsider whether or not this comment was consistent with his representation of the New England Patriots’ organization, and that he will correct his course on this unfortunate event. I would hope that Mr. Spikes would do this on his own rather than at the behest of the organization, but in any event I believe Mr. Spikes owes an apology not only for the comment, but for his reaction to the fans who took him to task. I am also extending a direct and personal offer to Mr. Spikes to respond on this site, without editing of any kind, so that he can broadcast any message that he would like to convey. I will update this post if he chooses to do so.

Mr. Spikes is young and still has lessons to learn about being a public figure, and for that I am willing to extend my forgiveness as a fan if he can accept responsibility for his actions. If not, Mr. Spikes will simply serve as an unfortunate confirmation of stereotypes that exist about professional athletes. I hope that Mr. Spikes recognizes this choice and acts accordingly.

UPDATE (10/12/12) – Michael David Smith at Pro Football Talk has weighed in on this matter as well. Good article.

Sep 072012
 

Editor’s Note: With the exception of PFT, most football sites will not be inclined to carry this story, but since we are primarily educators who happen to run an NFL fan blog, this is exactly the kind of story we are interested in. And while this site will not take positions in elections, or identify as a right or left leaning site, party affiliation is a natural part of this particular story. Never the less, Gridiron Rats does not endorse any political party or candidate.

Brendon Ayanbadejo is a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens and is a three-time Pro Bowler. He has maintained an active political presence, advocating for passage of the FIT Kids Act and for the legalizing of same sex marriage. This latter point in itself is not newsworthy, as gay marriage is a hotly-debated topic in our society. Many conservatives have even begun to recognize gay marriage as a civil rights issue, and a generational divide seems to have been created among conservatives over the acceptance of gay marriage, with the younger generation being far more tolerant of different lifestyles.

Yet Ayanbadejo’s views have drawn the wrath of one Maryland legislator, who has gone as far as to ask the Ravens to shut him up. Maryland house of delegates member Emmett C. Burns, Jr., a Democrat from Baltimore County, wrote the following letter to Steve Bisciotti, the owner of the Baltimore Ravens on August 29:

Dear Mr. Bisciotti:

As a Delegate to the Maryland General Assembly and a Baltimore Ravens Football fan, I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendan Ayanbadejo, would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically, as a Raven Football player. many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other. Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement. I believe Mr. Ayanbadejo should concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base.

I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football Franchise Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing.

Please give me your immediate response.

Sincerely,

Emmett C. Burns

I have several reactions to this letter.

First, Mr. Burns has CAPITALIZATION issues. Sir, if you are a delegate in the Maryland General Assembly, please learn how to write a business letter.

Second, and far more seriously, I am utterly appalled (to use Mr. Burns’ term) that a government official would seek to deprive a citizen of their right to free speech. It is universally understood that Mr. Ayanbadejo was speaking as an individual and not as a representative of the organization. The fact that he has a higher profile than most citizens does not mean that he sacrifices his right to free speech. If Mr. Burns in unable to comprehend that simply reality, then I must question his fitness for public service.

Third, Mr. Burns’ letter is transparent in its bigotry, given Mr. Burns’ vote against the Civil Marriage Protection Act, a law allowing same-sex couples to obtain a marriage license in Maryland. And if Mr. Burns’ was truly concerned for representing his constituency, as a Democrat, then he might want to consider his party’s own platform stance on gay marriage. Simply put, this was a narcissistic attempt to shut someone down that he doesn’t agree with.

Ayanbadejo’s response to the controversy has been incredibly professional. “Just what our country was founded on, for someone to try to take that away from me, I was pretty surprised that something like that would come up, especially from a politician,” Ayanbadejo said. Regarding his political view, Ayanbadejo is unapologetic. “I just thought it was important because it’s an equality issue. I see the big picture,” Ayanbadejo said. “You know, there was a time when women didn’t have rights, black people didn’t have rights, and right now, gay rights is a big issue and it has been for a long time. And so we’re slowly chopping down the barriers to equality. We have some minority rights we have to get straight and some gay rights, then we’ll be on our way — because ultimately, the goal is to be the best country that we can be and we’re always evolving. You just look back to where we came from, and we’ve come a long way, but we still have a ways to go.”

The response of the Baltimore Ravens has been commendable. Team President Dick Cass issued a statement stating, “We support Brendon’s right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment.” It’s both heartening and sad that a football team president gets that concept better than a state legislator.

Ayanbadejo said that Cass has been equally supportive of Ayanbadejo in private. According to Ayanbadejo, “He [said], ‘We’re in support of you, and it’s good that you’re able to voice your opinion and say how you feel… But Dick personally told me that we’re not an organization that discriminates…”

At the end of the day, this Patriots’ fan is proud of the way that the Baltimore Ravens have handled this situation and even more proud of Brendon Ayanbadejo for speaking his mind about an important issue in our society. He has been nothing but professional and respectful, and there is a certain state legislator in Maryland who could learn an awful lot from Ayanbadejo’s character.

UPDATE: Vikings’ punter Chris Kluwe, always known to be a colorful character has written a brilliant response to Mr. Burns. It is hysterical.  The letter is jam-packed with sarcasm, of which this is my favorite little gem:

Kluwe: “I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. They won’t even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population—rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?”

Well said, Chris. Well said.