Thursday, January 3, 2013

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer

Sometimes you read something and you just have to respond. The words are just too powerful to let go. Not saying anything gives approval of the statement.

Yes, I’m talking about Torii Hunter—just not in the way you think I am.

For those not familiar, at the end of December, Kevin Baxter, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, wrote an article about the challenges facing an openly gay professional athlete in football, baseball, basketball and hockey. In the article, Baxter quoted Torii Hunter as saying "For me, as a Christian … I will be uncomfortable because in all my teachings and all my learning, biblically, it's not right," and, "It will be difficult and uncomfortable."

Shortly thereafter, Torii Hunter’s son, Torii Hunter Jr. broke his leg during a football practice. The injury was extensive and ultimately required a surgery to fix.

On January 1st, Torii Hunter posted a comment on Twitter saying “I’m very disappointed in Kevin Baxter’s article in which my quotes and feelings have been misrepresented. He took two completely separate quotes and made them into one quote that does not express how I feel as a Christian or human being. I have love and respect for all human beings regardless of race, color or sexual orientation. I am not perfect and try hard to live the best life I can and treat all people with respect. If you know me you know that I am not anti anything and to be portrayed as anti-gay in this article is hurtful and just not true” [sic]

On January 2nd, Katrina Hall Hunter (@knutss48) posted on update Twitter saying “Thanks for your prayers. Torii Jr’s surgery went well. He is in recovery. @toriihunter48 @THunterJr”.

Shortly thereafter, Katrina Hall Hunter retweeted a post from some random person saying “maybe your husband shouldn’t be a homophobe and your son wouldn’t be dying.” [sic]
That comment made me sick. Such hatred has no business in any civil society at all. It was ignorant, disgusting, and offensive. After reading it, I had to respond so that good people everywhere would not let the poster get away with it.

I don’t want to get into the merits of whether or not Torii Hunter’s opinion is right or wrong. Nor do I care to discuss whether Kevin Baxter quoted him out of context to fit his story or not. That’s immaterial to what I want to say.

What I do want to discuss is what kind of hatred resides in a person in order to tweet something that mean and spiteful towards Torii Hunter’s son. More importantly, how does that level of hatred do anything to help the discussion about an openly gay athlete playing in professional sports?

I have children. I love them very much. As a writer, I know that people are going to disagree with me from time to time. When I put an opinion out there, it is bound to be met with different viewpoints, and not all of them will be in agreement.

And, I also know that not all people who disagree with me can do so with logic or intelligence. Sometimes they will resort to name calling. Frankly, it doesn't bother me if someone calls me or my articles “stupid”, “dumb”, “immature”, etc. Heck, it doesn’t bother me if they call me any of those names or worse (although I prefer it when people just focus on the article rather than making it personal).

But, if they attack my family in their hatred, that is a whole different subject. My family is off limits. They aren't putting themselves out there like I am. They aren’t a part of the discussion, so there is never any good reason to bring them into it. If someone does, s/he has crossed a line.

One of the main reasons why I work so hard to provide all the content and to do the interviews is to share a bit of the players with you, the fans. For most of my life, the coverage that I got as a fan was filtered through the perspective of a professional sports writer—a so-called dispassionate member of the media. It didn't give me the perspective that I wanted and rarely did I get all the information that I wanted as a fan.

So far, I think that I and have done a great job providing that level of content. However, when idiotic members of the public post comments like that, even on something like Twitter, it makes it harder for me to gain trust with the players. It makes it that much harder for them to be willing to share their lives with us, which ironically, is what we as fans want them to do.

Already Angels fans have seen this happen on more than one occasion. Last year, Jerome Williams received death threats for no reason at all. Bobby Wilson, after receiving numerous malicious comments on Twitter abandoned it. In both cases, it was the fans who ultimately lost out, as both players withdrew from the fans (although to both of their credit, both were willing to do interviews with me as a voice for the fans).

Personally, I can tell you that more than one player reads our site or has family members who do. I have been told be some players that it’s hard at first to see the negativity that they can generate with a bad outing or because of some physical attribute. Players are human beings, and fans need to remember that when they post some flip or trivial comment about them.

As for Torii Hunter, let me tell you about the man I got to know over the years in Anaheim. He is a good man and a Christian man. He was generous with his time, and always willing to give me a quote or to talk about a story. Unlike some players who reserve their time for the major networks, Torii went out of his way to give fans a glimpse into his life and his concerns. During my first appearance in the Angels clubhouse, it was Torii Hunter who helped break the ice by talking to me when others would not to show that I was on the level.

Looking at what Torii Hunter was quoted as saying, it’s hard for me to find fault with it. In general, I found that it takes the strongest and humblest of men to admit their difficulties and limitations. He never said he wouldn't welcome an openly gay teammate; nor did he say that he was opposed to such a person. Instead, he honestly spoke about how it would be difficult for him to deal with it. It did not show bigotry; it reflected how a man honestly thought about a challenging issue that he had not yet confronted. It certainly did not show or warrant the level of hatred that he got in return about his son.

In a civil society, people must remember that there are boundaries and lines that they should not cross. Oliver Wendell Holmes said that “My right to move my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” It is an extension of the Golden Rule: Do onto others as you would have them do unto you.

With today’s technology, civil discourse means not saying things online or anonymously that one wouldn’t say to that person’s face or by name. Unfortunately, thanks to technology, it is far easier far people hurt someone with their comments than ever before. With a few key strokes, an idiot can send a comment to thousands that can never be taken back or undone. And the damage that they can do can be far worse than ever before.

Fans should want to get to know their players. But, they should always remember that they are human. When players talk about their issues and challenges, it is no less difficult for them because they are superstars. The have emotions and feelings, and are entitled to their opinions. They—like us—have things that make them uncomfortable. How one responds in an uncomfortable situation is the true test of his or her character.

Fans should also remember that if they want to know more about what their stars believe, then they can’t be upset if the player’s values aren't always the same as theirs. In a country with closely divided elections, many religions, racial groups, etc., the odds of two people sharing all the same beliefs are essentially nil.

If you, as a fan, wish to engage in civil discourse with a player, it is okay. It may be possible to change an opinion that way. But, remember, there are lines that should never be crossed, regardless of the issue. Attacking the person, particularly his or her family, is one of those lines that should never be crossed. If you have any desire to truly change a person’s beliefs, it can only happen if you maintain a proper level of civility.

Ultimately, the underlying issue here will resolve itself. Within the next few years, I am sure that there will be an openly gay professional baseball player. Baseball is, after all, is the sport of Jackie Robinson and will rise the challenges of the times.

But, when people make comments attacking a player’s family, it does nothing to help advance the cause. When players are afraid about being honest about their beliefs and feelings, it becomes that much harder to change their attitudes because they will harden their hearts out of fear for their safety. And then no real discourse or change can occur.
Love to hear what you think!

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