By Aaron Leibowitz
Last spring, when Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy decided to take two games off for the birth of his first child, some in the media lambasted him.
“You’re a Major League Baseball player,” said WFAN radio host Mike Francesa. “You can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help.”
Many more, however, rushed to Murphy’s defense. Players, fans and writers alike praised him for prioritizing fatherhood and challenging traditional ideas of masculinity. Francesa and others, meanwhile, were called out for their archaic line of thinking.
For a few days, Daniel Murphy became symbolic of a sports landscape that’s gradually shifting in its definition of what it means to be a man.
Fast forward to Tuesday. After a visit to Mets spring training camp in Port St. Lucie, Fla., by Billy Bean — MLB’s first openly gay former player who is now the league’s “Ambassador for Inclusion” — Murphy once again found himself being publicly scrutinized, this time for comments regarding Bean’s “homosexual lifestyle.”
“I disagree with his lifestyle,” Murphy told NJ.com. “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.”
The backlash, especially on social media, was swift and strong. Being gay, many noted, is not a “lifestyle,” but rather a part of who someone is. And while Murphy appears to mean well, most people are not putting up with his perspective in 2015.
Still, a common retort to criticism of the 29-year-old is that he’s entitled to his opinion. “If anyone resents it,” one person told me on Twitter, “the whole [idea] of ‘tolerance’ is out the window.”
This rationale is almost as dated as Murphy’s “hate the sin, not the sinner” approach. Of course Murphy is entitled to his opinion; it’s physically impossible, as far as I know, to prevent a person from forming a point of view and choosing to express it.
But Murphy’s opinion is not that strawberry ice cream tastes better than vanilla. It’s that being gay is wrong. And even if he thinks he’s coming from a place of love, it’s a belief that leads indirectly — or directly, depending on who holds it — to the denial of people’s ability to exist in the world as their full selves and with a full slate of birthrights.
Fans and media, beyond merely being free to critique his statements, hold tremendous power in their decision of whether to stay silent or push back. Saying nothing, or shrugging it off with “it’s just his opinion,” is a tacit form of acceptance. No one’s suggesting Murphy should be punished or subject to vicious verbal attacks. But he should hear pointed criticism, and he has.
Last year we learned that, in the court of public opinion, saying “you can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help” is not going to fly anymore — even in a sports sphere that can sometimes seem upside down on matters of gender and sexuality. That’s a sign of progress.
And on Tuesday, we learned that saying “I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual” is also not going to fly.
Another sign of progress.