A reality TV star speaks out about gays and loses his job, albeit temporarily. Meanwhile, a professional football player speaks out about gays and loses his job, apparently permanently. Some conservatives argue that tolerance means what’s good for Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson is good for ex-Viking punter Chris Kluwe, even though the former denigrated homosexuals and the latter advocated for their equality. But to equate the cases of Robertson and Kluwe equates tolerance for an unthinking acceptance of prejudice.
“When we heard about Phil Robertson from progressives, we’d hear, ‘that it was his right to say whatever he wants, but everyone’s right to not watch or employ him.’ In the Kluwe instance from the same crowd we hear, ‘it’s his right to say whatever he wants and it was disgusting to fire him.’ There’s a double standard,” said Tim Young, director of marketing for the Liberty Alliance, a conservative new media venture. “The message is a hypocritical one from progressives. They’re only cool with your opinion if they agree with it. Otherwise you should lose your job.”
I should point out that Tim Young, despite his right-wing tendencies, is my friend, but he and I disagree when it comes to politics. That is, he’s wrong and I’m right. I tolerate his abject wrongness in matters political because I value his intelligence and humor, but tolerating his views does not mean that I accept them. Tolerance and acceptance are two different words because they are two separate concepts.
When Robertson’s views about gays, blacks, and women drew liberal censure, some conservatives such as Young saw the blowback as evidence of a lack of tolerance. Tolerance, for fans of dictionaries, does not require agreement. In fact, disagreement means that someone treated Robertson’s remarks seriously instead of ignoring them as the half-mad rantings of a reality TV star.
So when Young says that liberals are being hypocritical by defending Kluwe, he misses the point. If you’re not aware, Kluwe was the punter who alleged in an article for the sports blog Deadspin that he was cut from the Vikings because of his outspoken activism for marriage equality. Kluwe wrote that his position coach became so frustrated with his opinionated punter that he told a stunned players’ meeting, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”
For the record, the Vikings say that anti-gay prejudice has no place in their organization, and the team has hired outside counsel to investigate.
For his park, Kluwe doesn’t see any double standard in how he and Robertson were treated.
“I think that both Phil Robertson and I have the right to speak our minds, but we also have the right to the consequences of speaking our minds,” Kluwe said. “The Vikings were well within their rights to cut me if they wanted to, but I also get to tell my story and let society judge whether or not we want to live in a world where speaking out on behalf of other people costs you your job.”
If liberals and conservatives reacted differently to Robertson and Kluwe, said the latter, it’s because people applied the same standard, not different ones.
“I think the key difference between me and Phil is that he was speaking out against a group of people, while I was speaking out for a group of people who are being denied their freedom,” said Kluwe. “It’s a subtle distinction, but it’s very important.”
It’s not that subtle. Robertson has said that gays are “ruthless” and “full of murder,” an opinion he derives from a version of the Bible I was never taught in Sunday School. Kluwe took the radical view that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Where he got that idea, I’ll never know.
If there’s a lesson to be drawn from Robertson and Kluwe, it’s that we live in a country where it’s easier to get fired for fighting prejudice than for expressing prejudice, at least when it comes to gays. If you’re looking for a double standard, there it is.
Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @JasStanford.