Baseball’s Ambassador for Inclusion, Billy Bean was the first ballplayer to come out of the closet and declare the fact of his homosexuality after his playing career ended in the 1990s. Last year, Major League Baseball made Bean its “ambassador for inclusion,” with the mission of providing guidance and training related to efforts to support those in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community throughout Major League Baseball.
As part of that mission, Bean — like any other number of dignitaries, ambassadors, special instructors, speakers and the like — is visiting with teams this spring. Some teams, such as a the Mets, have asked Bean to actually suit up in uniform during his day with the team. That happened yesterday down in Port St. Lucie.
“I disagree with his lifestyle,” Murphy said. “I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual. That doesn’t mean I can’t still invest in him and get to know him. I don’t think the fact that someone is a homosexual should completely shut the door on investing in them in a relational aspect. Getting to know him. That, I would say, you can still accept them but I do disagree with the lifestyle, 100 percent.”
Murphy went on:
“We love the people. We disagree the lifestyle. That’s the way I would describe it for me. It’s the same way that there are aspects of my life that I’m trying to surrender to Christ in my own life. There’s a great deal of many things, like my pride. I just think that as a believer trying to articulate it in a way that says just because I disagree with the lifestyle doesn’t mean I’m just never going to speak to Billy Bean every time he walks through the door. That’s not love. That’s not love at all.”
There are certainly notes in Murphy’s comments which suggest compassion and which clearly reveal that his feelings are not that of a stereotypical homophobe. Murphy is certainly not going to bash Bean or hurl any epithets at the guy. But there is no escaping the fact that that the terms in which he couches his feelings about all of this are representative of the sort of mindset, whether it’s based in his own Christianity or, coming from another person might be based in something else, which has led to the discrimination, hate and marginalization of homosexuals throughout history.
“Disagreeing” with Bean or anyone else’s homosexuality is nonsensical. It’s not an opinion. It’s not a philosophy, political position, choice or a world view. It’s a fact. It’s part of who Bean is as a person. To say one “disagrees” with Bean’s homosexuality is no more coherent than saying one “disagrees” with Murphy’s left-handedness. Or with Murphy’s heterosexuality for that matter. Who would ever say they “disagreed” with Murphy’s heterosexuality? What would we think of a person who said that?
And then there is the classic “hate the sin, not the sinner” rhetoric. The “I’m trying to surrender aspects of my life to Christ” stuff which — again, while certainly something Murphy sincerely thinks of as admirable and generous — are words often used to describe bad behavior. You hear that about drug use and alcoholism. You hear it from people who commit crimes or who abuse spouses and children but who later find God. It’s a sentiment which I believe Murphy truly thinks of as compassion and love. But it’s also the case that the root of that very stance — that homosexuality is a sin — is what has given society cover to discriminate against homosexuality throughout history and to continue to do that to this day. It’s also what has led to untold amounts of violence and hatred against homosexuals because, well, not all religious thought agrees with Murphy’s views about compassion towards sinners.
There will be a lot of people getting on Murphy’s case today. When they do, there will be a lot of people offering some variation of “hey, it’s just his opinion, man.” Murphy is merely speaking his mind (as we sportswriters all wish more athletes would), and how dare we jump on a guy for merely saying how he feels? A more specific version of that response is to say that Murphy is entitled to his own religious convictions, and that we shouldn’t criticize a guy for them, even if we personally “disagree.”
I reject such a defense. Even if his religion has taught him that homosexuality is wrong, and even if one thinks Murphy has the absolute right, as a citizen, to say what he wants about it (which he certainly does), there is no escaping the fact that such comments are ignorant. That they, however politely put, serve to marginalize a great many people. That they, when taken to their logical extreme, encourage and/or give cover for bigotry and violence and hatred.
Given that Murphy does not appear to have any animus about him in his comments makes it safe to say that he doesn’t necessarily realize that. But the fact that he does not realize that shows you just how essential Billy Bean’s message in his new role — that its important to support LGBT persons in the baseball community — really is.
UPDATE: Bean responds to Murphy’s comments.