Reasonable Debate

This post is not mine.  It is from the January 18, 2012 edition of Jon Wertheim’s weekly mailbag.  Wertheim, Sports Illustrated‘s premier tennis writer and an ally of the LGBT community, has for weeks been addressing the fallout from Margaret Court’s idiotic remarks about homosexuality.  This is not the first time Wertheim has addressed this homophobia in tennis (nor is the it first time Court has opened her big mouth in the past few years), but Wertheim’s answer to this question was so moving that I wanted to make sure that I did my small part to promote it.  I have reprinted the question and answer in full, save for the personal information of the submitter.  The question to Wertheim is in bold and his answer is in standard typeface.  

Since you reasonably endorsed the polite, understated protest of garnishing a rainbow flag at Margaret Court Arena, and you’re so skillful at juggling multiple viewpoints, could you comment on how one might disagree with the societal merits of a gay or lesbian lifestyle without being hateful about it? Unfortunately, the publicity machine only gets cranked up when someone pulls a ‘Margaret Court’ and is rude, depending on your perspective. Is there room at the table for someone who thinks those lifestyles are ‘just plain wrong,’ but voices their opinion in an appropriate way and at appropriate times? Perhaps you can remember an instance when someone disagreed the right way?

Thanks. I’ve had some private exchanges with a number of you about this issue and I guess here’s where I stand: there are some issues that invite debate and civil discourse. There are some views that fail to meet that standard and are, well, “just plain wrong” and should be treated as such. Giving rights to some and denying them to others based solely on their sexual orientation is not ripe for debate in my eyes. It’s just prejudice — deeply hurtful and offensive to so many within and out of tennis.

I do you think you raise an interesting point, both generically and specific to this issue: is there an appropriate way to disagree here? I struggle with that. We analogize at our peril here, but imagine if Margaret Court had said: “I love black people and pray for them. I just don’t think they should have the same rights I do.” Do we respect opinion and subjectivity? Or do we refute and attack? (While I respect the bible and religion, both, of course, are open to interpretation. The same value system that might condemn homosexuality also encourages tolerance and compassion and social justice.)

Inasmuch as there’s any discussion to be had here, you could start by showing some empathy, acknowledging your view/policy is causing great pain — and that this hurt is asymmetrical. When Margaret Court uses the word “abomination,” she has surrendered her boarding pass.

You could also stick to the facts. When Margaret Court speaks of converting gay congregants — “I help them to overcome. We have people who have been homosexual who are now married.” — measured discussion seems pointless.

I know some of you feel this issue hasn’t gotten sufficient attention, while others feel it’s gotten too much attention. Why don’t we enjoy the tennis and, barring a new development, throw this on the back-burner for a while?



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