“They Won’t Magically Turn You Into A Lustful Cockmonster”

Who says sport, politics and literature can't mix?

Back in my undergraduate days at Otago, I took a political studies degree. One of my lecturers then was Anthony (Tony) Wood; a true legend of the field. And one of the things that sticks most in my mind about his teaching was his invocation of the rise of the "global village" as an influence on domestic politics - this, remember, was a pre-internet era - and the way that social issues could thus "spill" from country to country.

(Actually, another thing that sticks in my mind about Tony Wood was that he routinely walked into and around campus with headphones on. A good friend of mine (who shall remain nameless, but presently is deputy leader of the Labour Party) informed us that he was listening to Parliament on them ... quite how he knew this I know not, but even then he had the capacity to make us accept completely whatever he said. This information then caused another friend to fall about laughing, choosing to believe that a late-middle-aged-Pakeha-man-in-a-suit was listening to this.)

Anyway, Tony Wood's lectures have been on my mind of late as I watched the debate on same-sex marriage unfold in New Zealand from the shores of the United States (where I currently am spending some time for my sins). After all, the same-sex marriage debate has been roiling the waters here for some time now. And it was President Obama's (somewhat belated) decision to "come out" in favour of same-sex marriage that caused the New Zealand media to ask John Key his thoughts on it, which in turn led him to say he was "not personally opposed", which then gave Louisa Wall cause to introduce a members bill, which then got two-thirds support in Parliament at its first reading (the same proportion that seems to support the measure in the general populace, if opinion polls can be believed).

Which in turn lead to articles like this appearing in the US (and wider world) media ... and so the feedback loop continues.

Of course, the issue in the US is somewhat more contested than in New Zealand, for a bunch of reasons. One is federalism - essentially, you are having 50 different debates over the issue in very, very different places. Another is the institutional setting in which the debate takes place. Some places are having it in the legislature (like we did in New Zealand). Some are having it in terms of individual voters (when referendum measures are put on the ballot to either allow or ban same-sex marriage). And many are having it in the courts (when judges are asked to either allow same-sex couples to marry, or overturn attempts by voters to stop same-sex gays from ever marrying). And depending on where the argument is had, you get very different sorts of arguments getting presented.

Finally, the religious influence on the debate is completely different. Yes, I know there are some religious folk in New Zealand who believe gay marriage represents some sort of existential threat to their beliefs. However, religion's impact on the debate in New Zealand pales by comparison with the United States. That probably sucks if you are a committed Christian, Muslim or Jew in New Zealand who believes that the State is acting to redefine a sacrament that you consider central to your view of how the Divine wishes human relationships to be structured.

But I'm not a committed believer, and so while I can empathise, I don't sympathise. Because there's as little reason for me to bend my core moral beliefs (which is that same-sex couples ought to be recognised in law in a manner no different to straight couples) to accomodate religious believers as there is for such committed religious believers to bend their beliefs to accomodate me. And there's more people who think like me in New Zealand than think like them ... so I win.

However, I digress. My point was that here in the US there are the same sorts of debates over same-sex marriage are going on as in New Zealand. And, in particular, the state of Maryland currently is debating an upcoming "ballot initiative" (i.e. referendum vote) on whether same-sex marriage should be allowed. As this NY Times article explains, the vote comes after the state legislature voted to allow such marriages - but delayed its implementation to allow the chance for a public vote on the matter.

One of the prominent voices who has chosen to actively speak out in favour of allowing same-sex marriage is Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo.This is a pretty big deal in US pro-football terms ... it's got roughly the equivalent of Charlie Faumuina doing the same in New Zealand rugby circles. And it sparked a backlash in the form of one Emmet C. Burns Jr, a Maryland state delegate who opposes same-sex marriage, who wrote to the owner of the Baltimore Ravens and urged him to "“inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions.”

Now, it may be simply that I am ideologically predisposed to oppose such efforts to shut down views that I agree with. Or it also may be that Emmet C. Burns Jr looks somewhat similar to an aged Clay Davis, and my many hours of DVD watching make me deeply suspicious of him for that reason alone. But this strikes me as extraordinarily dickish behaviour, even for an elected politician.

Fortunately, there were others who held similar views. In particular, Chris Kluwe, the punter for the Minnesota Vikings NFL team, got so upset with Emmet C. Burns Jr's actions that he wrote what may be the single greatest letter ever written by any sportsperson. I copy it in its entirety below, but also note that the response of the Ravens has been to "support Brendon's right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment":

Dear Emmett C. Burns Jr.,

I find it inconceivable that you are an elected official of Maryland's state government. Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level. The views you espouse neglect to consider several fundamental key points, which I will outline in great detail (you may want to hire an intern to help you with the longer words):

1. As I suspect you have not read the Constitution, I would like to remind you that the very first, the VERY FIRST Amendment in this founding document deals with the freedom of speech, particularly the abridgment of said freedom. By using your position as an elected official (when referring to your constituents so as to implicitly threaten the Ravens organization) to state that the Ravens should "inhibit such expressions from your employees," more specifically Brendon Ayanbadejo, not only are you clearly violating the First Amendment, you also come across as a narcissistic fromunda stain. What on earth would possess you to be so mind-boggingly stupid? It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on that same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person's right to speech. To call that hypocritical would be to do a disservice to the word. Mindfucking obscenely hypocritical starts to approach it a little bit.

2. "Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment, and excitement." Holy fucking shitballs. Did you seriously just say that, as someone who's "deeply involved in government task forces on the legacy of slavery in Maryland"? Have you not heard of Kenny Washington? Jackie Robinson? As recently as 1962 the NFL still had segregation, which was only done away with by brave athletes and coaches daring to speak their mind and do the right thing, and you're going to say that political views have "no place in a sport"? I can't even begin to fathom the cognitive dissonance that must be coursing through your rapidly addled mind right now; the mental gymnastics your brain has to tortuously contort itself through to make such a preposterous statement are surely worthy of an Olympic gold medal (the Russian judge gives you a 10 for "beautiful oppressionism").

3. This is more a personal quibble of mine, but why do you hate freedom? Why do you hate the fact that other people want a chance to live their lives and be happy, even though they may believe in something different than you, or act different than you? How does gay marriage, in any way shape or form, affect your life? If gay marriage becomes legal, are you worried that all of a sudden you'll start thinking about penis? "Oh shit. Gay marriage just passed. Gotta get me some of that hot dong action!" Will all of your friends suddenly turn gay and refuse to come to your Sunday Ticket grill-outs? (Unlikely, since gay people enjoy watching football too.)

I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won't come into your house and steal your children. They won't magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. They won't even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population—rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?

In closing, I would like to say that I hope this letter, in some small way, causes you to reflect upon the magnitude of the colossal foot in mouth clusterfuck you so brazenly unleashed on a man whose only crime was speaking out for something he believed in. Best of luck in the next election; I'm fairly certain you might need it.

Chris Kluwe

P.S. I've also been vocal as hell about the issue of gay marriage so you can take your "I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing" and shove it in your close-minded, totally lacking in empathy piehole and choke on it. Asshole.

[Update: This Salon article has more on state representative Burn's original letter, and the response it has generated.]