I’m trying to take Tim Brando at his word, but he isn’t making it easy

Earlier today my colleague Otherwise uncorked on sports broadcaster Tim Brando for his reaction to the Jason Collins story. If you somehow missed it, NBA journeyman and free agent Collins publicly acknowledged on Monday that he is gay, making him the first active player in a US major sport to do so.

Brando brought a good bit of heat down on himself with a series of tweets that many perceive as being, well, I’ll let you decide. The firestorm seems to have started when he retweeted this one (although it looks like it has since been deleted).

.@CallMeG_Unit Simple Being a a Christian White male over 50 that’s raised a family means nothing in today’s culture. The sad truth. Period.
4:55 PM – 29 Apr 2013

And away we go with the white, Christian family man privilege problem, because if anyone in America has been historically downtrodden, it’s middle-aged white guys who go to church. Especially rich, famous middle-aged white guys. This is what set Otherwise off.

This isn’t what intrigues me, though. Brando has expended some energy defending himself and dismissing those who’d cast him as a reactionary/homophobe, and in truth, I’ve never had any reason before this to regard him as some kind of social conservative asswaffle. Maybe he is, but if so I’ve missed it. So I’d like to take a few moments to examine some of the nuance in this little dustup.

Brando is now working to frame his remarks as being not about gay or coming out, but instead about the word “hero.”

And:

Okay. Frankly, I’m sympathetic to the argument that our society has devalued the word “hero” by using it to apply to just about anyone who shows up for work regularly. I’ve been bitching about this myself for years.

Is Collins a hero? What do we mean by that word? Is he Sgt. York or Jonas Salk or Dave Sanders or the people who stormed the cockpit and crashed United Airlines Flight 93? Probably not, no. Had Brando truly meant his comments in this way, had he articulated them properly and stuck to the point, I wouldn’t be criticizing him at all. I’d be agreeing with him, and vehemently: words have meanings and we’re all better off when we use them the right way.

But that isn’t exactly what Brando did.

A lot of folks right now are comparing Collins to Jackie Robinson, the man who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. Is this a seamless comparison? No, for a number of reasons, but there are certainly enough social, cultural and political parallels that we can undersand where it comes from.

Brando didn’t go in that direction. He went in this direction:

So, when thinking about the relative significance of this event in the history of American sport, Brando arrives at “sex tape” before he does “Jackie Robinson.”

Earlier today, I tweeted this:

I’m not trying to accuse or be even a little bit snarky. I think this is fair and honest. I don’t expect to hear back from Brando, of course, but if I did I think there’s a useful conversation to be had. Right now, a lot of people are calling his values and integrity into question, and it’s because he himself has spoken in ways that invite criticism.

If Brando wants to insist on a strict usage of the word “hero,” then he has a national platform from which to articulate the point and properly contextualize his views. If he believes what Collins did is worthy and to some extent courageous, he can say that. If he believes in the fair and equitable treatment of all Americans regardless of their sexual orientation, he can say that, and he can do so to a daily audience of thousands, perhaps millions. If he has a problem with the word “hero,” he can tell us what word is more appropriate, and if he believes that real heroes are more like Michael Monsoor, he can tell whom he thinks is a more apt comparison.

Brando could have done these things, but he didn’t. He still can, but if he does, “sex tape” makes it a lot longer walk around than it would have been a couple days ago.

5 comments

  • You nailed it. I went TILT because of the self-centeredness and sheer whininess of Brando’s Christian male Tweet.

    I agree we use hero too loosely. In this case, you’ll note Collins did this at the end of his career, not the beginning. So maybe he’s not a hero. That’s a valid argument.

    For that matter, I actually am OK with Broussard saying that homosexuality is a sin. That’s a valid opinion. It’s a stupid response and stupid of him to say it, but it’s a legitimate response.

    I am even OK with Larry Johnson saying he’d be uncomfortable with a gay teammate, even though I’d guess Larry, who is black, doesn’t realize that the same argument was used for decades to keep blacks out of major sports. Or now that he’s got his, maybe he doesn’t care about rights for anybody else.

    • I recognize people’s right to have stupid, ignorant hateful opinions. I’m not “OK with it” in that I don’t respect stupidity and hatefulness, but I guess I am OK with it in a Constitutional sense.

      I completely and utterly reject the concept of sin as defined by the Abrahamic religions. I have my own definition of right and wrong and I guess you could use the word sin to describe the “wrong” part. But those actions pretty much all have to do with hurting people – usually the defenseless.

      If you’re gay, you ain’t hurting anybody by being so. So you’re not being sinful, and Chris Broussard can fuck off and die.

  • This story is fascinating to me in that it is clear there are significant segments of society just waiting for this moment for years and now people are piling on from all directions. The “liberal” press is touting him as a hero (probably not but it did take a bit of chutzpah) and the right as a yet another harbinger of the decline of American civilization (again, probably not but it does take a bit of … ignorance). My wife had an art professor who once made a point of saying there is great importance to being the first — clearly many people have been waiting for this first for their own reasons and when it happened … game on! I mean Rush Limbaugh spent more than an hour on it yesterday … sheesh!

    Personally, I use the Tom Stoppard theory of experience and look forward to when the second player comes out, “At which point, a dimension is added that makes the experience as alarming as it will ever be. A third … only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still … until it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience…” And, unless I am mistaken, that is what the gay community has been asking for all along.

  • I agree with you violently.

  • By the way, Martin Rogers today points out that the last pro athlete to come out, ended up hanging himself in a storage locker. So maybe Collins does deserve the hero label.

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