Michael Sam, Brendan Eich, and the Mental Gymnastics of Anti-Bigotry Crusaders

Michael Sam prefers football; his defenders, mental gymnastics.

In February, the gay player’s proponents cried “bigot” when observers merely wondered aloud how he might impact the chemistry of an NFL locker room. Two months later, now that the cleat is on the other foot, the same people who said homosexuality should play no role in the defensive end’s draft stock now say that homosexuality serves as a fine issue on which to force Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich to resign.

In February, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni called NFL players “psychological pipsqueaks” and “Paleolithic” over expressed reservations over sharing a locker room with Michael Sam. “It’s a workplace,” Bruni argued, deal with it.

By April, Bruni’s position on workplace tolerance had evolved. He now believes that employees have the right to be shielded from working with people who differ from them on the question of homosexuality. In fact, he now believes the outliers should be fired rather than protected. “If [Brendan] Eich had repudiated his prejudice,” Bruni argued in his column this weekend, “he would still be CEO. He refused to do so. There comes a point where tolerating bigotry has to stop.”

When did Silicon Valley become such a delicate ecosystem?

“When did the locker room become such a delicate ecosystem?” Bruni asked in February. “Is it inhabited by athletes or orchids? And how is it that gladiators who don’t flinch when a 300-pound mountain of flesh in shoulder pads comes roaring toward them start to quiver at the thought of a homosexual under a nearby nozzle?”

Mozilla employees weren’t asked to shower with Eich. But merely working for the same California company as someone who financially supported a successful Golden State ballot proposition that defined marriage as between a man and woman struck many as an unbearable oppression. “Mozilla isn’t the first company to make leadership decisions (or reconsiderations) with an eye toward the boss’s cultural mind-meld with the people below him or her,” Bruni points out.

Should the NFL apply Bruni’s Spockian “mind-meld” test to gay players such as Michael Sam, the Times scribe surely has another logical backflip in him. When the workplace disproportionately employs evangelical Christians and uber-macho alpha males, the bosses require sensitivity training, which NFL GM's received at the recent league meeting. When the workplace disproportionately employs hipsters and Bay Area ideologues, the bosses require the boot. The mind-meld test fails when the people below the boss don't think like Frank Bruni. Then the employees become “psychological pipsqueaks” over their reservations over the outlier worker.

GLAAD, which helped orchestrate Sam’s coming out party, ridiculed the idea of cultural differences tearing apart a locker room. But such a concern struck them as legitimate when it came to Brendan Eich. “Mozilla’s strong statement in favor of equality today reflects where corporate America is: inclusive, safe, and welcoming to all,” read an Orwellian reaction statement by GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. They urged supporters to adopt the Twitter hashtag: “#switchtofirefox.” Merely because they canned their CEO?

Michelangelo Signorile, a sort of shiny-eyed, less genteel version of Frank Bruni prone to criticizing GLAAD for being insufficiently pro-gay, described linebacker Jonathan Vilma as “cowardly” for expressing reservations about showering alongside gay players. Rather than a culture clash, Signorile argues that “Michael Sam presents an incredible opportunity for the NFL to put all the ugliness behind it and move into the future.” Signorile wondered if “Sam will save the NFL from its homophobia.”

Whereas Signorile depicts Sam as the antidote to a diseased culture, he sees Eich as a cancer to be removed before it spreads. “None of this is about government censorship,” Signorile pointed out in non sequitur fashion in a recent Huffington Post piece. “It’s about a company based in Northern California that has many progressive employees, as well as a lot of progressives and young people among the user base of its Firefox browser, realizing its CEO’s worldview is completely out of touch with the company’s—and America’s—values and vision for the future.”

The mark a CEO makes in the ballot box, like who an athlete sleeps next to in the bedroom, tells us nothing about how they would do their jobs. Saying that they would tells us something about the speaker, not the spoken about. The world regresses when these two very private places—the bedroom and the ballot box—host invasions by political peeping toms. There’s a reason bedrooms have doors and ballot boxes curtains. Kicking in the door, or ripping off that curtain, to make hiring and firing decisions hurts the workplace and the private space.

When a few NFL players express reluctance to play alongside others whose behavior clashes with their morality, it’s “ugliness.” When techies force the inventor of JavaScript to resign because he didn’t vote the way they did, it’s “progressive.”

There’s no logic here. There’s only laundry. Partisans support positions the way fans support teams. The latter group mindlessly cheers players wearing their particular laundry that they would mindlessly boo if they appeared in the garments of a rival squad. The opinions of such people don’t matter for much because they’re predetermined before the action begins.

University of Missouri Tigers fans would cheer Michael Sam no matter what. So would Michelangelo Signorile, GLAAD, and Frank Bruni. The flip-flopping of Signorile, Bruni, and GLAAD on whether homosexuality should be an issue in employment decisions displays self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and amoral ends-justify-the-means ethics. Poor sports.


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