Thursday, September 23, 2010

Defending the Indefensible: Part II

I regret, in a way, that Terry Jones did not go through with his plan to burn the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11.  I normally prefer to avoid provocative gestures, but the overreaction to his announcement was so thorough that I found myself rooting for him to complete it.  It was hard, I imagine, for liberals to condemn him in good conscience, since they have such an absolute ideal of free speech that includes, even promotes, provocative gestures against Christianity; nevertheless, they did so.  Conservatives have long advocated positions of "you have a right to say it, but I don't think it a good idea" (along with "I don't think the government should fund you"), so I wasn't surprised to see them objecting.  I was surprised, however, at seeing Jones condemned so uniformly in such drastic language.  National Review was all over him, including editor Jonah Golberg, who called it "stupid, irresponsible, and repugnant."

Let's think about it.  Repugnant?  It doesn't seem particularly Christian, at least by today's definition.  (Probably 17th century Europeans would have had a different idea.)  I have Muslim friends, and I would not want to insult their faith in this way.  Stupid?  How so?  If he aimed to draw attention to himself, he did a brilliant job of it.

Irresponsible?  There's the crux of the matter.  Would burning the Koran result in increased Muslim violence?  Petraeus said that it would endanger the troops in Afghanistan.  First of all, I seriously doubt whether burning a few Korans would significantly alter the battlefield picture.  I'm sure the Islamist terrorists are already doing everything they can against our troops already.  It might trigger a terrorist attack on civilians, which is a concern.  But should it be?  I don't want to be put in danger because of something a pastor in Florida is doing.  On the other hand, I don't want to have to restrict my activities because I'm afraid of a terrorist reaction.  It seems that our whole society is built on the idea that we can say whatever we want.  Jones is not advocating violent action against Muslims (as far as I know), which means that there is no fuzzy line here between acceptable and unacceptable speech (in a legal sense).  That's what Petraeus is over there fight for, in other words.  Far from urging Jones to stop his action, Petraeus should be defending his right to do it.  I realize that those two are not mutually contradictory:  he might defend Jones's right, but still wish that he wouldn't do it.  What we got, however, was all reticence and no defense.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Defending the Indefensible: Part I

I don't try to be disagreeable, but I seem to come out on the minority side of issues an awful lot.  Two such issues came up in the past week, so I thought I would give my side of the story in both of them.

The first is the article Portis voices ugliness in NFL culture by Dan Wetzel.  The issue concerns comments made by Redskins running back Clinton Portis about having a female sports reporter in the Redskins' locker room after a game.  After playing football for 3 hours and getting sweaty and dirty, the first thing players do in the locker room is get a shower and change into regular clothes.  Male reporters have been going into locker rooms for years to get interviews right after the game, but when female reporters started to enter the scene, some players objected.  This is not a new issue:  there was an incident back in 1990 involving the New England Patriots' locker room and tight end Zeke Mowatt.  Some Patriots' players complained that reporter Lisa Olson was spending more time observing naked players than interviewing, and Mowatt subsequently exposed himself in front of her deliberately.  She won a lawsuit against him and the Patriots.

I haven't heard much about the issue since then, but recently there were allegations that some New York Jets' players harrassed another female reporter.  When asked about the incident on a radio interview (Portis is not on the Jets and had nothing to do with alleged events; he was merely asked his opinion as a player, as far as I can tell), he expressed his discomfort with having women in the locker room:

“You know man, I think you put women reporters in the locker room, in positions to see guys walking around naked, and you sit in the locker room with 53 guys, and all of the sudden you see a nice woman in the locker room, I think men are going to tend to turn and look and want to say something to that woman.
“For the woman, I think they make it so much that you can’t interact and you can’t be involved with athletes, you can’t talk to these guys, you can’t interact with these guys.
“And I mean, you put a woman and you give her a choice of 53 athletes, somebody got to be appealing to her. You know, somebody got to spark her interest, or she’s gonna want somebody. I don’t know what kind of woman won’t, if you get to go and look at 53 men’s packages.
“And you’re just sitting here, saying ‘Oh, none of this is attractive to me.’ I know you’re doing a job, but at the same time, the same way I’m going cut my eye if I see somebody worth talking to, I’m sure they do the same thing.”
Wetzel called these comments "ugly," "ignorant," "pathetic," "insulting," and called Portis "a clown" for making them.  In his view, Portis "still assumes that female reporters are eager to look at the players’ 'packages.'"  Let me offer an alternate interpretation.

Portis clearly does not assume that female reporters are "eager" to look at naked players.  What he said was that, out of 53 naked men, it was normal that a woman would find at least one of them attractive and want to look at them.  Far from picking on females, he explicitly notes that he would behave the same way himself.  I don't fully understand his other comments about female reporters, how "they make it so much that you can’t interact and you can’t be involved with athletes, you can’t talk to these guys, you can’t interact with these guys," but he seems to be suggesting that it is uncomfortable to be naked in a locker room with women around.

Is that so unreasonable?  Is it bizarre in our society to suggest that men might not want to have women seeing their naked bodies?  Do you think female athletes might feel uncomfortable if they were forced to shower in the presence of male reporters?  I don't actually know whether men are allowed in the locker rooms of female athletes, such as those of the WNBA.  (I assume individual performers, such as tennis players, are allowed to shower in private.)  One of the Wikipedia articles I linked above says that women reporters are allowed in men's locker rooms by virtue of a Supreme Court verdict, and I would be curious to know if the same logic applies when the sexes are reversed.  I think anyone would have to be crazy to think that male reporters would not enjoy seeing female athletes undressed, but apparently it is offensive to suggest that women might be turned on by men.  Of course, women are not men, in spite of what some people would have us believe; we are different in many ways, including the degree to which we are aroused by visual stimuli.  But individuals also vary from the group, and if someone thinks there aren't many women who would be aroused by seeing naked, athletic men, they are almost as ignorant as those who think men would not be turned on by women.

Does this mean female reporters shouldn't be allowed in the locker room after football games?  No, I don't care to tackle that question.  What bothers me is self-righteous sportswriters who assume that anyone who disagrees with them is an ugly, ignorant, pathetic, insulting clown.  Maybe it would be just as well to try to see the other person's point of view before condemning it.  On the other hand, that probably doesn't attract as many clicks on the website, so why bother?