By Arturo R. García
The statement from ESPN on Tuesday was predictably, almost disappointingly dry, given what prompted it. After willingly being the media equivalent of the person at somebody else’s celebration who tries to upstage the host’s announcement, this is what the network had to say for itself:
We regret that a respectful discussion of personal viewpoints became a distraction from today’s news. ESPN is fully committed to diversity and welcomes Jason Collins’ announcement.
If you missed it, here’s what that “respectful discussion” about Collins public declaration of his sexuality, making him the first active gay player in one of the country’s more lucrative/”major” sports leagues turned into:
That’s ESPN Magazine senior writer and NBA contributor Chris Broussard on the network’s critically acclaimed newsmagazine, Outside The Lines, dismissing Collins’ identifying himself as a Christian. Here’s a partial transcript:
Personally, I don’t believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle or an openly, like premarital sex between heterosexuals. If you’re openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says you know them by their fruits. It says that, you know, that’s a sin. If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, whatever it maybe, I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ. So I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I don’t think the bible would characterize them as a Christian.
That statement was the flashpoint, but the network’s suspicious dismissal of Collins’ coming out became noticeable not long after Sports Illustrated released his first-person account of his journey toward the moment online Monday. For example, this is a shot of ESPN.com’s homepage about two hours after the column went live:
Despite the Collins story gaining traction online, the “Worldwide Leader” instead clung to its meal ticket, now-former New York Jets quarterback (and #KONY2012 supporter) Tim Tebow. That devotion, as Deadspin noted, also played out on the air in near-comical fashion. Also, look at the phrasing there: “NBA center Collins decides to come out.” Ho-hum. Never mind that the NBA is an integral part of the network’s own programming, or that the 12-year veteran made his announcement during the playoffs.
But, hey, these things take time. One could argue, even, that the network wanted to feature its own take on the matter–say, an interview with LZ Granderson, a contributor on ESPN and various other outlets who has also written publicly about his experiences as an out gay sportswriter. That would help propel the story to 1-A status. Right? Wrong. Here’s a screenshot from an hour later:
Now the top story is Ryan Nassib, a third-round NFL draft pick. Granderson’s first phone interview on the network’s flagship show, SportsCenter? Still tucked away in the top corner. But what’s been lost in the discussion since Tuesday is that Granderson actually was on the phone “alongside” Broussard on OTL on Monday:
Broussard later issued his own statement on Tuesday:
Today on “OTL,” as part of a larger, wide-ranging discussion on today’s news, I offered my personal opinion as it relates to Christianity, a point of view that I have expressed publicly before. I realize that some people disagree with my opinion and I accept and respect that. As has been the case in the past, my beliefs have not and will not impact my ability to report on the NBA. I believe Jason Collins displayed bravery with his announcement today and I have no objection to him or anyone else playing in the NBA.
The problem is Broussard’s analysis throughout the segment is laced with code-phrases betraying his purported intent: he talked about Collins’ “lifestyle.” He said the NBA would be largely accepting of Collins’ revelation in part because of “political correctness.” He downplayed the level of change this could mean for the league, saying Collins is a “mediocre” player. He worried about people holding similar views being branded as “bigots” while not mentioning any instances of homophobia within the league that might have hurt players who did not have the support around them to come out–or, for that matter, team staff, league personnel, or fans. Broussard claims he’s speaking from the vantage point of the View from Nowhere, but his interpretation of his faith seeps through.
Granderson, who also self-identifies as a Christian, added this reponse to Broussard’s “characterization” statement:
Faith, just like love, just like marriage, is personal. And if you try to use a broad brush to paint everyone’s faith, what you really are painting is a world which is comfortable with you and not a world in which — in this country — we’re allowed varying forms of religion. And just because somebody doesn’t agree with one person’s interpretation of the Bible versus the other doesn’t mean they have exclusive rights to dictate how that person should live. I would love not to have premarital sex. But in this country, I’m not allowed to get married. So, I’ve gotta do what a brother needs to do. Now if you want to have a conversation about the constitutionality of faith in the Defense of Marriage Act, we can have that conversation. If you want to talk about the constitutionality of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, we can have that conversation. But we can’t say on one hand, from a spiritual perspective, that the Bible says x, y and z, but then set up a federal government system in which you further ostracize a collection of people and then point fingers at them and label them “sinners” because they’re not able to fulfill what they want in their heart spiritually.
So I think there’s a lot of layers to this conversation that need to be peeled. And to say, ‘Oh, you’re having premarital sex and oh by the way, I’m not gonna let you get married,’ I think, is setting us up to be called “sinners,” which isn’t fair. Which isn’t what the Bible calls for. It calls for us to love and treat each other as we want to be treated. And I think anyone in our position, in our situation — and by our, I’m speaking of the LGBT community — would be very frustrated with that. But even in the face of all of that, I would tell you that I still follow Jesus Christ. He is my personal Lord and savior. And I really don’t need Chris or anyone else telling me I’m a Christian, because Jesus tells me I am.
Broussard’s remarks also stuck out because he was thrust into a position to talk about Collins over people who you would think would get that call first: Stephen A. Smith and Mike Wilbon both enjoy bigger platforms within ESPN’s NBA coverage, and the network rarely misses a chance to have Tebow’s chief advocate, columnist Skip Bayless, pontificate. But here it was Broussard, who has a history of “disagreeing” with homosexuality (not to mention a past brush with controversy for allegedly misreporting stories) out front.
Meanwhile, as of Tuesday night, the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” hasn’t even had an interview with Collins himself posted on its website. Instead it posted Collins’ conversation with ABC News host George Stephanopoulos from Good Morning America. It’s debatable whether Smith, Wilbon, or Bayless would have provided substantially better analysis than Broussard but, in spewing rhetoric not that far removed from the likes of Pat Robertson, Broussard committed the worst professional sin of all: forget handling the NBA beat, he looked like he lost track of the country’s pulse.
Postscript: Lest we forget, Broussard wasn’t the only Christian broadcaster pooh-poohing Collins’ revelation; CBS sportscaster Tim Brando had feelings over people calling Collins a hero, building up to his lament that “being a Christian White male over 50 that’s raised a family means nothing in today’s culture.” However, Matt Binder revealed at Public Shaming that Brando does have his own heroes, like golfers. And former Hootie & The Blowfish lead singer Darius Rucker.