Why I Think Chris Broussard Should Be Censured by ESPN

Faithful America – an online community dedicated to “reclaiming Christianity from the religious right and putting faith into action for social justice” – has a petition on their website today entitled “Tell ESPN: Don’t Use the Bible to Gay Bash Athletes”. It reads:

When Jason Collins became the first openly gay player in the NBA, he emphasized the importance of his Christian faith in accepting himself and deciding to come out.

But within hours, ESPN sportscaster Chris Broussard characterized coming out as “openly living in unrepentant sin” and attacked Collins, saying “I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I don’t think the Bible would characterize them as a Christian.”

Shockingly, so far ESPN is standing by Broussard, describing his tirade as “a respectful discussion of personal viewpoints.” ESPN needs to hear immediately from thousands of Christians who are appalled that the network is allowing our faith to be wielded as a weapon of anti-gay hatred.

Sign the Petition:

Chris Broussard’s hateful attack on Jason Collins for being gay was an unacceptable misrepresentation of the Christian faith. ESPN must immediately suspend Chris Broussard and guarantee that their network will never again be used for gay bashing.

I signed the petition and then posted it on Facebook, where it generated a good deal of conversation. Some of it is worth discussing here, I think.

First, let’s talk about one critique that I agree with. One friend who commented wrote, “I find this use of the word ‘bash’ a little cavalier — and, of course, extremely unfair to people who have actually been gay bashed.” This is probably a fair point, and I wouldn’t necessarily object to a change in the language if it were up to me. I think Faithful America’s point could still be made, and made strongly, with a change of phrase.

Second, let’s talk about the “Christian” part of this issue. One comment referred to Broussard’s homophobia as “a common Christian belief.” To my way of thinking, it’s more like a common belief held by many, including quite a few (but certainly not all) Christians. I’m not sure how I feel about calling it “a common Christian belief,” though. For one thing, here’s what Jesus actually said about the matter. For another, it’s not just some Christians who share Broussard’s view; a lot of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc., think homosexuality is a sin too. In fact, the Pew Forum found that about 55% of all Americans — from all religious backgrounds — think homosexuality is a sin. Christianity is the majority religion in the United States, so its adherents tend to get more exposure. But it’s a prejudice that runs deeper than one particular religion’s teachings, I think. And one that persists among Christians despite the fact that Jesus never addressed the issue, and instead talked a lot about loving others (especially those not traditionally well-treated).

Moving on, another commenter asked, “Does saying that ‘homosexuality is wrong’ necessarily make you prejudiced? Is there a way to say ‘I think this is wrong’ without being hateful?”

Does saying “homosexuality is wrong” mean you are prejudiced? I think so. Would we be asking a question like this if somebody said simply and plainly, “I think the female gender is inferior” or “The white race is superior?” Probably not. But Broussard also said more than that: “If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be … I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ.” Not only is that an expression of personal prejudice, but it’s also an awful thing to say. And I guess I missed the memo from ESPN explaining that it’s Broussard’s job to opine about homosexuality as a sports analyst. As a newsman, I would expect him to talk about the historic aspect of Collins’ announcement and what it means for the sports world — he’s the first player in a major American team sport to come out as gay — but not to use the network as a forum for sharing his beliefs about homosexuality. How is that sports analysis again?

In addition, Broussard seems to be cherry-picking his Christian ethics. If he’s going to be such a Biblical literalist, then shouldn’t he go all the way? If he covers football again (as he has in the past) without saying that every single player is committing “an open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ” for handling pig flesh (which is forbade in Leviticus), then it sure seems like he’s just a guy who doesn’t like gay people, looking for an excuse to get a pass on that. Also: didn’t Jesus say something about not judging others?

Another comment was more personal: “I guess I would assume that you, Danny Fisher, a Buddhist chaplain…would be more sensitive than most to this issue. However, many of your criticisms of this guy’s religion and personal character have seemed, to me, like extrinsic criticisms, based on your political/ethical point of view and your understanding of the Bible, rather than attempting to understand his worldview and working from there.”

First of all, chaplains aren’t moral relativists. Second, I don’t necessarily think of Facebook posts as spiritual care. But going along with the premise for a moment… As a caregiver, I do think that I have a responsibility to point out the ways that inappropriately expressed beliefs affect others. It is not Broussard’s job as a sports analyst to share his beliefs about homosexuality; it seems to me that he simply took advantage of having a big microphone at his disposal. When that happens without ESPN bringing the hammer down, and saying clearly, “He should not have done that, and there will be consequences,” my fear, based on what I’ve learned about where hate crimes come from, is that this might make worse an unsafe environment for LGBT persons.

A while back, I shared here an open letter I composed to Mr. Neil Nguyen and the Little Saigon 2013 Tet Parade Committee in response to the committee denying the Partnership of Viet Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Organizations’ request to march in the 2013 Tet Parade. In that letter I pointed out the following:

The FBI’s most recent release of hate crime statistics (from 2011) shows a startling increase in hate crimes against the LGBT community. In fact, hate crimes based on sexual orientation now constitute the second most frequent type of hate crimes (behind only hate crimes based on race). It is worth noting, however, as the Southern Poverty Law Center has, that ‘most hate crimes are never reported to police and those that are typically are not categorized as hate crimes by local jurisdictions.’ (The FBI also does not yet track hate crimes based on gender identity or gender, though they will have to soon under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.) Additionally, the Human Rights Campaign notes that, like racial and ethnically motivated hate crimes, hate crimes against the LGBT community ‘are more frequently committed against persons than property.’ Indeed, even before the rise in hate crimes, 54% of LGBT people expressed concern about being the victim of a hate crime, with 20% of gay men and 27% of lesbians saying that were ‘extremely concerned’ … Clinical and forensic research by people like UCLA psychologist Edward Dunbar has done much to teach us about what influences hate crime offenders, and factors might include such things as upbringing and levels of pathology. In addition, University of Massachusetts-Amherst psychologist Ervin Staub has indicated that a climate in which others are excluded or marginalized or made scapegoats for larger problems ‘may give [hate crime offenders] permission to have and express [aggressive and antisocial] feelings… People who have had painful experiences and no opportunities to heal tend to be more hostile in general, and they more easily channel their hostility toward groups the society is also against.’ It is no real surprise, then, that the National Institute of Justice has found that a full one-quarter of all hate crime offenders ‘commit hate crimes to protect their neighborhood from perceived outsiders.’

It seems to me that what Broussard said at best does nothing to help protect a vulnerable community, and at worst might contribute to intensifying a climate in which LGBT persons are already susceptible to violence as it is. To say things like “[who you are is an] open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ” on a major TV network’s airtime (especially when that’s not what you’re there to do) seems to me pretty reckless and completely irresponsible. And when ESPN does not respond in a meaningful way, but instead calls what Broussard said merely “a distraction”, that seems to me profoundly irresponsible as well. They need to say loudly and clearly, “That was reckless, and we deplore what was said in the strongest possible terms. In addition, there will be consequences for Broussard and others who take advantage of their position in our network to express such beliefs on our airtime.”

If you agree, you can sign Faithful America’s petition here.

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  • Peter R

    Danny, I’m happy to see this discussion move outside of FB. I would like to bring to light, however, the mischaracterization of ESPN producers in this affair. You clearly note that you feel Broussard stepped outside proper role as sports-reporter. To add some context, he was commenting during an Outside the Lines taping, which has been magnificently curated by Bob Ley for many years. The main purpose of the show is to engender discussion that is beyond (outside) of sports. ESPN producers decided to have Broussard, who is avowedly Christian, paired with with LZ Granderson, an openly gay reporter. (Hold on, I’m getting to my point). I started watching OTL with great interest at this point. I knew that Broussard would have talked to other NBA players, and I was hoping he would bring to light their religious views, mostly because of Broussard’s religious background. Cryptically, he commented that many players would not come out against Collins because they knew the “climate” would not allow for it. This is where it got interesting, at least for me. Granderson started to comment how there had to be open discussion between those of different opinions on homosexuality, and then mentioned that he and Broussard were on opposite ends of this issue. I was always curious of Broussard’s views because of his religious commitments (and other “outed as religious” ESPN analysts, Bayless and SA Smith among them). It was only after this that Broussard made his comments. My point it that Broussard was not simply pontificating his personal views. The very context of the show, the pairing of the guests (producers would know that Broussard and Granderson were on opposite sides of the spectrum), and the trajectory of Granderson’s comments, would all propel Broussard to “opine about homosexuality as a sports analyst.” In fact, I would not doubt that was what ESPN producers were hoping for, and what Broussard felt was expected of him. The “ESPN memo” that you mentioned in your post, I would say is situated within this subtext. The response by ESPN I think tacitly acknowledges this as well.

    This has nothing to say about what Broussard said, however, only that he was given a forum by ESPN. I am in no position to comment on Biblical exegesis. But I will push you on one more point in your analysis: your belief that people of a religious background (or, really, anyone) have to be painstakingly consistent in their views. As a scholar of religion I am sure you recognize that
    “consistency” is far more rare than “cherry-picking” (though I would not use
    that word). The complexity of religious commitments is reflected and shaped by
    the vastness (historically and culturally) of their religious traditions. Selectiveness and exegesis are demanded, no?

    Oddly enough, to me, it seems that ESPN producers wanted to have a “debate” about homosexuality, religion, and sports, and Broussard was operating as a mouthpiece for one end of that debate – a debate that ESPN clearly thought had some traction among its viewers (and was likely reassessed over the past few days). What was most interesting to me was that the potential for this “debate” to hold water meant that one end had to be couched in religious garb, otherwise it would have too clearly been seen as bullying.

    _/|_

    • Peter R

      ESPN actually has the segment online: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=9225225

      The moderator asks Broussard to comment on Collins as a Christian around the 11:00 minute mark. The OTL production staff clearly had interest in hearing a personal opinion from Broussard.

      • RevDannyFisher

        Thanks, Peter. A couple of thoughts…

        To add some context, he was commenting during an Outside the Lines taping… The main purpose of the show is to engender discussion that is beyond (outside) of sports… The moderator asks Broussard to comment on Collins as a Christian around the 11:00 minute mark. The OTL production staff clearly had interest in hearing a personal opinion from Broussard.

        Fair enough. This does change things a bit, I think. At the same time, given the fact that Broussard’s opinions about homosexuality were known before this interview, ESPN’s producers certainly knew what they were going to get from him, as you say. He works for them, so it sure feels like it’s got their stamp on it. At the very least, they’re still guilty of bad judgment.

        The complexity of religious commitments is reflected and shaped bythe vastness (historically and culturally) of their religious traditions. Selectiveness and exegesis are demanded, no?

        Sure, but that works both ways. The Bible was used in this country for a long time to justify slavery. We had to outgrow that. And we have to outgrow this.

        • Peter R

          “At the very least, they’re still guilty of bad judgment.”

          Yes, the petition should be against ESPN (or OTL), not Broussard. If some sanction was leveled against Broussard, it exonerates ESPN’s complicity in the affair.

          It is interesting to see the discourse on homosexuality emerge at ESPN in the recent days – it is still a “debate” to be had. They trotted out Broussard to make the discussion a “debate.” But this debate only exists within the context (vacuum?) of religion. For example, see the 6:30 mark of the video below. In essence, what ESPN is saying is that the only way to have a “valid” criticism of homosexuality, is to have a religious one – as long as its “civil” (i.e. orderly, not secular). ESPN, it seems for now, is not trying to “outgrow” (as you note) anything.

          http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=9232491

          • DJ916

            The petition shouldn’t exist, period. ESPN purposely asked Broussard to opine on the issue personally. Because one disagrees with the opinion offered doesn’t make said opinion one of ‘bigotry’ or ‘intolerance’ simply based on the mere act of disagreeing. The fact is that most major religions have attached morality to sexual behavior- that isn’t ‘discrimination’ or ‘prejudiced’ by any semblance of common sense.

            Now the fact that the author admits, “Fair enough. This does change things a bit, I think. At the same time,
            given the fact that Broussard’s opinions about homosexuality were known before this interview,
            ESPN’s producers certainly knew what they were going to get from him,
            as you say. He works for them, so it sure feels like it’s got their
            stamp on it. At the very least, they’re still guilty of bad judgment,” demonstrates that he simply reacted to Broussard’s position rather than watching it in context, undermines the column, sans promoting a petition to be signed.

        • Barfly_Kokhba

          Anybody who compares the issue of “gay marriage” to the evils of human slavery is painfully stupid, not to mention morally bereft. Have a bad day.

        • Barfly_Kokhba

          As a matter of fact, moron, why don’t you look up these ladies:

          http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/escaped-cleveland-woman-amanda-berry-real-hero-kidnapping-141444873.html

          And explain to them that the issue of human trafficking–i.e. modern human slavery–will have to wait until we address the historic injustice of George Clooney’s hair stylist not being able to “marry” his West Hollywood boyfriend.

          Once again: fuck you.

  • sam

    Hey Danny, I appreciated this post and am glad I could contribute in some small way in it. I have a few more questions, but first I want to say that there are many forums to have a discussion like this on the internet, but I am interested in having one with you and on this forum specifically because I respect your opinion and writing a great deal. I also should say that I am strongly pro gay marriage and that I don’t think homosexuality is wrong. That said, I think equating “homosexuality is wrong” with “women are inferior” and “whites are superior” is not useful or accurate at all. One is based on behavior, the other two are not. So the response I have heard to that point goes along the lines of “Being gay is not a choice, its who you are, you have no control over it, just like being a woman or being a poc. So because you have no control over it, it can’t be wrong.” But sure it can. If a behavior is wrong, it’s wrong, regardless of whether or not one has a choice in it. And I don’t want to open a whole can of worms here, but from what I’ve read the evidence is pretty strong that no one “chooses” ANY behavior in the way we commonly think of choice, so whether or not being gay is a choice has nothing to do with the morality of it. Knowing a psychopath was born with the urge to kill may affect how we sentence him, but it should not affect how we feel about killing, yes?
    This brings me back to my question: Is there room to talk about sexual morality, beyond the obvious golden rule of consent, in a way that is neither hate filled nor morally relativistic? Is there a way to say “These actions are wrong”, be it committing adultery, or having same sex intercourse, or incest or bigamy, without being labelled “prejudiced?” If the answer is “you can say things are wrong that people choose to do; you can’t say things are wrong that people don’t choose” I mean, I think that is an incredibly weak argument.
    So I shouldn’t compare murder with homosexuality, obviously. The first is clearly wrong, while the second is well…like I said, I don’t happen to think the second wrong at all. But I can see the arguments, the ones that say family units in which biological parents raise their own children are the building blocks of a better world and that situation should be encouraged and not equivocated. If we want to convince people homosexuality is not morally wrong, we need to have THAT argument, and win it; we need to engage with the Ross Douthats and not the stereotypical right wing strawmen, and not hide behind “they don’t have a choice.”
    With much love and respect,
    Sam

    • RevDannyFisher

      Thanks, Sam. A few thoughts…

      I think equating “homosexuality is wrong” with “women are inferior” and “whites are superior” is not useful or accurate at all. One is based on behavior, the other two are not.

      They’re all forms of identity. Gender, race, and sexual orientation refer to who people are, not just what they do. The APA says: “One’s sexual orientation defines the group of people in which one is likely to find the satisfying and fulfilling romantic relationships that are an essential component of personal identity for many people…most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.” And, as a recent article in US News & World Report about advances in understanding the origins of sexual orientation stated: “The hereditary link of homosexuality has long been established.” It’s who they are.

      If the answer is “you can say things are wrong that people choose to do; you can’t say things are wrong that people don’t choose” I mean, I think that is an incredibly weak argument.

      I might say the same thing about your argument since you had to qualify it with, “I shouldn’t compare murder with homosexuality, obviously”…


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