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Keidel: David Tyree Learns The Cost Of Free Speech

By Jason Keidel
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Athletes often lament that we in the media focus on the negative, on the bad boy ballers, ignoring the myriad times they put their popular names to good use, raising countless millions for good causes. There is truth to that, but it would be easier to resist the leap to Page Six if their colleagues didn't oblige so often. Enter David Tyree, who has the city in a tizzy after his assertions about gay marriage.

Unlike most people, I've met David Tyree. I interviewed him at Macy's in Manhattan for a piece I wrote for this Web site in December, during a fundraiser for Wounded Warrior Project. He spoke for a moment to start the event and then signed autographs and other memorabilia for our injured heroes who return hopeless, limbless, and lifeless after fighting for his right to play football, my right to write about it, and your right to watch it.

That doesn't make me an expert on Tyree, nor does it condone or condemn his controversial comments, but it takes about 60 seconds to conclude that he's a bright and thoughtful man, not one given to frequent spurts of bigotry.

I have an opinion on Tyree's remarks, and on gay marriage. But I won't share it because my opinion is no more valid than his, or yours.

And that's the point of this piece: that such are the semantic hazards of life under the wide lens of public life and the wider tent of First Amendment freedom.

Gay marriage, as we know, is a toxic topic at the moment, the debate du jour. Any view, reasoned or not, is assured a volcanic retort. Kobe Bryant led a conga line of renowned athletes (including Roger McDowell and Joakim Noah) who made gay slurs that were caught on camera. After being fined, scolded, but not suspended, Bryant issued a mea culpa and the world still twirled.

Too often a star morphs into rambling crusader, assuming that they're instantly imbued with physical, philosophical and diplomatic powers that lay dormant until they became important. No matter your political leanings, we've all been sickened by some gaseous monologue from an actor or athlete who assumes we want to hear his/her thoughts on Darfur, immigration, or Medicare. It's not enough that they are lucky enough to inhale millions just because they're pretty or pretty good onstage. We must also kneel at their sudden sense of enlightenment.

And for far too long we've imbued those celebrities with cosmic powers, from Jane Fonda to John Rocker, making the myopic assumption that because they are gifted on a stage that they must be equally gifted on the street.

Rocker, who is clearly off his rocker, made some dubious declarations to Sports Illustrated a decade ago, a troubling rant about the 7 Train and its passengers, who, because of their ethnic diversity, made him uncomfortable. For this, Rocker was vilified, fined, suspended, and basically blackballed from baseball.

Floyd Mayweather, Jr. delivered a monologue as racist as anything you'd see at a Klan rally, calling Manny Pacquiao every Asian slur in the catalogue (all of it recorded and available on YouTube), yet nothing happened. Bernard Hopkins continued his bigoted assault on Donovan McNabb, yet nothing happened. Charles Barkley once said he hates white people, yet nothing happened.

Mind you, I watch every boxing match involving Mayweather and Hopkins because they are brilliant boxers. (I've interviewed Hopkins, too, and when he's not belching misguided anthropological lectures, he's a blast to be around.) And I find Barkley an affable, sometimes laughable, but always entertaining NBA analyst. If we limited our entertainment dollar to people we liked personally, we'd never watch a movie, buy a record, or attend a ballgame. We just wish the participants, the entertainers, would entertain us in the manner that made them famous.

I will say that it's sad that as children we're emblazoned with homilies about sticks and stones, yet as adults everything offends us. There's no law against idiotic remarks, just as there's no law against idiots. No doubt we all have a semantic mulligan (or two) on our scorecard. What we don't have are millions of people who witnessed our gaffes, recorded them, and ran them on eternal loop for the populous to parse.

Perhaps the solution is to ignore the sermons, no matter the source or source matter. The more offended we become, the more power we bestow upon the offender.

Sorry if this missive morphed into a civics class. I'm just a dumb sportswriter with the mind of a jock but none of his talent. All I have is an opinion and perhaps some talent for expressing it, but I'm no more important than you are. And David Tyree is no more important than we are.

Feel free to email me:

What are your thoughts on Tyree? Let Keidel know in the comments below...

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