A little less than a year ago, Daniel Murphy made a lifestyle choice.
You might remember it, because it got a good bit of attention in the sports world, particularly in and around New York City. Around the start of the 2014 season, his wife gave birth to his first child, and Murphy made the choice, the understandable, logical, eminently reasonable choice, but the choice nonetheless, to miss a couple of games to be with his wife and new son. Somehow, even in 2014, a couple of radio hosts had a problem with this, despite the fact that; (a) MLB began offering three days of paternity leave in 2011, and (b) there are a lot of baseball games in a season, 162 in fact, and missing a handful seems like a small price to be able to see, and enjoy, the moment of your child’s birth.
And yes, a few people were upset, but what was actually quite heartening was the backlash to the backlash. A number of outlets wrote in support of Murphy in particular, and the necessity of paternity leave in general. The story even managed to cross beyond the sports world, with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes offering a moving defense. Boomer Esiason, one of the radio hosts who first sparked the controversy, eventually offered up a thoughtful apology. So sure, Daniel Murphy’s choice initially drew some detractors, but eventually, it became clear that there were plenty who had his back. When the dust settled, Murphy was even invited to the White House to be a part of a summit on working families. (And yes, feel free to insert your own joke about how the rest of the Mets will likely never find their way there.)
In an NJ.com piece on MLB Inclusion Ambassador Billy Bean’s visit to the team, Murphy offered his thoughts on homosexuality, in a series of quotes that have garnered plenty of attention in the past two days. All of that goodwill. All of that openness. All of that progress. All overshadowed by the use of a word, that isn’t really just a word, but a tag for an entire, unfortunate way of looking at homosexuality, and of LGBT issues in general.
“I disagree with his lifestyle,” Murphy told Mike Vorkunov, “I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual. That doesn’t mean I can’t still invest in him and get to know him. I don’t think the fact that someone is a homosexual should completely shut the door on investing in them in a relational aspect. Getting to know him. That, I would say, you can still accept them but I do disagree with the lifestyle, 100 percent.”
It’s a shame, on a number of levels, that Murphy’s quotes served to overwhelm and overshadow other aspects of a truly exceptional story. How Sandy Alderson was inspired by the memory of Glenn Burke, the first former major leaguer to disclose his homosexuality. How he invited Bean to spend a day with the Mets in camp, offering the former outfielder “the inner joy… to be wearing a big league uniform again,” according to a first-person essay written for MLB.com. And how the Mets players themselves embraced the idea, with Murphy himself calling it “forward thinking”, and enjoying the opportunity to meet Bean for the first time.
All of that goodwill. All of that openness. All of that progress. All overshadowed by the use of a word, that isn’t really just a word, but a tag for an entire, unfortunate way of looking at homosexuality, and of LGBT issues in general.
If only Daniel Murphy knew that nothing could be further from the truth.
If Murphy had wanted to, he could have placated anyone who questioned his paternity leave. He could have, at the first sign of criticism, changed his mind, left the hospital, and rushed to rejoin his team so that he would not miss a single inning of action. It would have been absurd, and ridiculous, and an unfortunate concession to those who believe that a person’s work should overwhelm all aspects of their life. But it could have been done. For Murphy, the choice was there.
Billy Bean has no such choice. There is no mechanism through which he can placate Daniel Murphy, no option that will return him to the good graces of all those who cling to a stubborn and outdated notion that being gay has anything to do with a “lifestyle”. That, ultimately, is what Murphy, and others who purport to “love the sinner and hate the sin”, must come to understand. Each time someone says that they “disagree with the lifestyle”, what they are actually saying is that they disagree with a person, with their essence, with the very fiber of their being. And they are saying it not just to Billy Bean, but to every LGBT individual who might be listening.
Murphy’s comments have been seen, in some corners, as a sign of progress when it comes to locker room acceptance of homosexuality, and it’s easy to understand why. After all, less than a decade ago, former NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway bluntly told Miami radio host Dan Le Batard that, “I hate gay people, so I let it be known.” (It’s worth noting that in the years since, Hardaway has learned, and grown, and recanted, not just with words, but also with tangible and praiseworthy action in the fight for equality.) In considering where we’ve come from, it’s easy to look at Murphy’s remarks, his talk of love and acceptance and “investing” in a relationship, and think that we’ve come a long way. And that’s fair, in a certain sense.
But if eradicating hateful language and contempt for the LGBT community was the first step, the next must be to extinguish the notion that homosexuality is something that can be “disagreed” with, something that can be reworked, or undone. Intolerance can come from any number of places. It can grow out of bad science, outdated traditions, and religious doctrine. And if those things are teaching Daniel Murphy, are teaching anyone, that there is something wrong with homosexuality, than those are the things that must change, because Billy Bean, Michael Sam, Jason Collins, and millions of others around the world cannot. This is not their “lifestyle”. This is their life.
On Wednesday, Cyd Zeigler, author, commentator, and co-founder of Outsports.com, wrote eloquently about why his most pressing concern, in the wake of Murphy’s quotes, was not for Billy Bean, or the Mets, or the sport of baseball. No, the bigger worry, according to Zeigler, was for Murphy’s son Noah.
“So what happens if his son is gay?” asks Zeigler, “Noah will have gone to Sunday School from a very early age. He will have attended church as soon as he was able to sit in a pew. No doubt he will have to read about Sodom and Gomorrah and be told that gays are sinners whom God will put to death. Maybe even more powerfully, he would have heard his father talk about homosexuality being wrong.”
Less than a year ago, Daniel Murphy decided that for him, a few days with his wife and newborn son was more important than opening day. Despite the media storm that it ignited, he stood firm. “That’s the awesome part about being blessed, about being a parent,” he told the press upon his return to the team, “is you get that choice.”
In the wake of yet another media storm, I hope that Daniel Murphy makes another choice. I hope he chooses to reflect, and listen, and educate himself about homosexuality. I hope he chooses to keep the dialog open with Bean, and other LGBT advocates. I hope he chooses real love, and unconditional acceptance, over any sort of judgement and fear.
Because that’s the awesome part about being blessed, about being a citizen of this world.
We get to make that choice.