“That’s my opinion” is the golden gun of arguments.
Nearly impossible to counter, it is the last resort of someone who does not have the tools to win an argument, but will not concede defeat either.
If someone tells you “that’s just my opinion” and you continue arguing, they can accuse you of trying to impose your beliefs on them. Suddenly you are the didactic one, suddenly the argument is not about the issue any longer but their right to their own beliefs and that is when you know that the discussion is well and truly over.
Why do I bring this up? Because the sports world was taken over by a story concerning the first gay player drafted into the NFL; Michael Sam.
During an interview, former coach and current NBC football analyst Tony Dungy said he would not have drafted Michael Sam; stating, “I wouldn’t have taken him. Not because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it. It’s not going to be totally smooth… things will happen”
Okay fine. Dungy believes that as the first openly gay player in the league, there will be a media circus surrounding the player and he would not want to deal with associated distraction. I don’t agree with this as a position, but it is hardly a public denouncement of Michael Sam as a person and homosexuality as a concept.
So what’s the big deal? Well it has to do with Tony Dungy as a person.
Tony Dungy is a Christian. A Christian who has stated he “doesn’t agree with Michael Sam’s lifestyle” and that he has “traditional views on marriage.” (read: he doesn’t believe in gay marriage as an institution.)
So when this story broke, people on both sides of the issue came out of the woodwork.
Some people who have no issue with homosexuality, that support marriage equality contended that Dungy not wanting Sam on his hypothetical football team is because he is anti-gay who finds issue with homosexuality
Some people in support of Dungy claim he was looking at this purely from a football perspective and his views on homosexuality did not factor in. Furthermore, we should not judge him for his Christian beliefs or criticize his opinions on marriage equality.
Now I’m not here just to throw another shovelful of dirt on Tony Dungy, smarter people than me have already done that, I want to talk about how dangerous the nature of opinion is when it comes to these types of arguments.
What is an opinion?
To bastardize a common metaphor, imagine I hate mushrooms (and I do, they are a vegetable wrought in the fires of the underworld). I have decided to never eat mushrooms, and when someone tells me how great they are, that I should try them again, I am allowed to say “I do not like mushrooms” because that is simply my opinion.
That all sounds reasonable doesn’t it? I’m sure some people agree with me that mushrooms are a disgusting affront to mankind and other people believe I am wrong and mushrooms are crafted of rainbows and starbeams, but as long as we’re only talking about my preference, nobody cares that much.
But imagine I hated mushrooms so much I didn’t want anyone else to eat mushrooms, ever. I try to convince everyone else how gross they are, I push legislation limiting mushroom rights and stop mushrooms from marrying other mushrooms and you can see how this metaphor is falling apart on me.
The bottom line is that an opinion is only valid as long as it is limited to YOU. When people begin to impose their personal preferences on others at the cost of rights, freedoms and equality we are no longer talking about opinions or personal beliefs.
What the hell does this have to do with sports!?
This is the issue with the Tony Dungy story. Tony and all his supporters have used sentences like this;
“I’m a man of faith”
“I have Christian beliefs”
“You can’t persecute a man for his faith”
“Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion”
Supporters of these controversial positions have cunningly held onto the word “opinion”. It is much easier to defend their morally reprehensible views when they are referred to as “opinions”.
As I mentioned above, Dungy is against same-sex marriage. No matter how he says it (“I have traditional views on marriage”, “I have Christian beliefs”, “I don’t agree with his lifestyle”) he is in favor of restricting people from marriage due to their sexuality. This is not a personal opinion. This is a political position taken with the intention of limiting the rights of millions of human beings because something makes him uncomfortable.
On the Dan Patrick Show on July 23rd 2014, Dungy stated that it hurt when people said “being a Christian that I’m somehow hateful of gay people or that I am anti-gay” And yes Tony, it is unfortunate that your feelings are hurt, but can you not see where we were coming from in this situation? You say you “do not agree with their lifestyle and you have traditional views on marriage” but you are surprised people believe you are anti-gay?
Tony, you are anti-gay. You cannot claim to love Michael Sam and oppose his possession of the basic rights you enjoy. You cannot claim to disagree with a “lifestyle” that homosexuals cannot control any more than you can control being black and maintain a moral highground. You cannot impose your opinion on others and still call it an opinion.
When faced with this issue, supporters of said controversial opinion will fall back to the favorite political right of the bigoted; the first amendment. The issue with this right however, is that the people who consistently invoke their right to free speech have no idea what it means.
The right to free speech means that you cannot be prosecuted for your speech.
What the right to free speech does not mean is that we have to listen to you.
And it certainly doesn’t mean we have to agree with you or treat your views with respect.
Nobody will throw you in jail for saying homosexuals are an affront to god and they will all burn in hell; the Westboro Baptist Church has made that very clear
But if you believe that we have to listen to your bigoted views, that we are not allowed to disagree with the views of the man that will restrict rights to those he deems acceptable, that we cannot find fault in Tony Dungy when he tries to straddle the line of morality by claiming he is a traditionalist Christian who does not “agree” with homosexuality but is not anti-gay then you are 100% wrong.
But hey, that’s just my opinion