In the aftermath of tragedy, too often do we resort to a kind of cheap, regressive rhetoric. When trying to comprehend the incomprehensible, too often do we fall back into a binary, us-versus-them type of thinking that goes hand in hand with all the -isms and phobias imaginable -- a mindset that seems to justify and excuse discrimination.
We witnessed this just this past weekend, as we all tried to make sense of the violence in Orlando. Some blamed the senseless slaughter on an entire religion, faulting Islam for the actions of one man. Others pointed the finger at homophobia, a point of view backed up by the statement of the gunman’s own father.
But that latter view begot a double standard that was too much for ESPN’s Jemele Hill. The journalist took to Twitter to reflect on the fact that in a country that to this day remains all too homophobic, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to damn another group for a similarly narrow mindset:
Predictably, Hill was flooded with angry responses, decrying her tweet for equating the two cultures -- and for even suggesting that their histories of homophobia are remotely comparable. So to make her point clear, she wrote the following on Facebook:
I'm more offended by the culture we have created in which people can't feel free to be their whole selves and for that matter even supporting those who just want basic freedom is considered a negative.
I have heard a number of people moralizing those with Muslim beliefs about their homophobic religion ... as we debate and fight over access to transgender bathrooms. As if for centuries, we have not passed and championed laws that devalue and demean the LGBTQ community. Yet now we want to puff out our chest and say, "well at least we're better than Islam!"
So a lot of folks today miss me with the hypocrisy.
Hill is not saying that the U.S. is more discriminatory, more freedom-restricting, more homophobic. She’s saying that we need to quiet our cravings to condemn other cultures for offenses of which we ourselves are guilty. That if we’re to cry foul on others for prejudice, we better be absolutely certain that such bigotry isn’t widely endorsed -- and legislatively supported -- within our own 50 states.
After Hill’s remarks, a faction of (largely conservative) users began to call for her suspension from ESPN. They cited how the network responded to Curt Schilling’s explicitly transphobic social media comments earlier this year -- after a series of slaps on the wrist, it finally severed ties with the ex-pitcher -- and demanded to know why a conservative man got cut for stating his views, while a progressive woman got to walk into work the next morning, scot-free.
Forbes posted an article entitled “Why Hasn't ESPN Disciplined Jemele Hill For Political Tweet About The Orlando Shootings?” The far-right leaning Breitbart then followed that up with one called “So When Does ESPN Curt Schilling Jemele Hill Because of Tasteless Tweets After Orlando Mass Shooting?” in which they lambast Hill for her “idiotic opinions” and ESPN for supposedly misunderstanding what diversity means.
In Breitbart’s own words:
Abby Wambach can gain a employment at the Worldwide Leader in Hypocrisy after campaigning for Hillary Clinton and advocating for transgenders competing against the opposite sex in sports, Jemele Hill can tastelessly politicize a tragedy before we know the body count not fearing cancellation … but Curt Schilling gets canned after ridiculing males using the women’s restroom[?]
The comparison between Hill’s and Schilling’s comments, however, is missing an obvious leg of logic. For months, Schilling had been generating tweets, takes and tantrums that crucified specific religious, social or ethnic groups for such crimes as clashing with his sensibilities of what is the right way to live and love, pray and preach.
In August, he likened Muslims to Nazis. In March, he declared that Hillary Clinton “should be buried under a jail somewhere.” And in April, in the heat of the debate over North Carolina’s anti-LGBT bathroom law, Schilling went on an anti-transgender tirade, posting a meme seemingly with the intention of mocking those who identify as trans, and writing: “A man is a man no matter what they call themselves … Now you need laws telling us differently? Pathetic.”
Only then, after all that, did ESPN break up with Schilling, briefly stating: “ESPN is an inclusive company. Curt Schilling has been advised that his conduct was unacceptable and his employment with ESPN has been terminated.”
Suffice it to say there are a handful of issues when trying to compare Schilling's situation to that of Hill's -- and when shouting to the clouds that Hill should be punished for her recent “political” posts.
The important one here is that Schilling didn’t get dropped by the network for having a conservative agenda. He didn’t split with ESPN for having his own personal, private opinions that differed from those of the higher-ups at Disney. Schilling left the network for trumpeting views that qualify as discriminatory demagoguery, for seemingly happily suggesting that some people are inherently less-than. And for using his platform as a highly visible ESPN employee to blast out those beliefs.
Hill was effectively calling for more love, more equality, more empathy in the world. Schilling, in his verbally violent tirades, was calling for more judgment, more division, more exclusion. Schilling’s words demand that we rank and revile entire groups of people for not looking or acting like our favored perceptions of ourselves. And Hill, despite the internet’s outrage, wasn’t calling for some overhaul of our deep-seated national belief system -- she was calling for acceptance for all.
So no, Breitbart, in the wake of Orlando, ESPN shouldn’t “Schilling” Hill for writing of and lamenting our country’s all-too-evident biases and bigotry. Trying to address and abate prejudice isn’t an inherently political act. It’s a sensible, and, sadly, necessary one in a week when over four dozen people were gunned down for who they are and how they identify.