There is no doubt that the NFL is in transition when it comes to gay rights. We have the first out player in history in Michael Sam who was drafted by the St. Louis Rams. We also have Tony Dungy, the former Indianapolis Colts head coach and current Sunday Night Football commentator, digging a deeper and deeper homophobic hole each time he tries to explain away his comment that he would not have drafted Sam. Meanwhile in Minnesota, there is continuing controversy over the end of punter Chris Kluwe's career, which he believes was directly related to his pro-gay marriage stance.
Last week the New York Giants announced the hiring of former Super Bowl hero and anti-same-sex-marriage advocate David Tyree to a front office job, where he is directly responsible for the development of player's careers. Tyree's anti-gay activism is well-known in New York circles because he fought against the eventual marriage equality law in New York State claiming that gay marriage would lead to anarchy within our society. His comments have also been tied to gay conversion therapy, as he said he knows people who have changed from being gay.
Tyree's involvement in anti-gay causes was directly linked to his conversion to Christianity, which connected him to a group of fundamentalist Christians devoted to anti-gay activity in the United States and abroad. Tyree developed business ties with these folks and co-wrote his autobiography with the woman who helped to convert him.
While the New York Giants and Tyree have distanced themselves from Tyree's former comments, they are insisting that Tyree will stay in his new role serving players. Jerry Reese, the team's General Manager, dismissed the controversy and said that Tyree's former comments have simply been "blown out of proportion."
Wade Davis, an ex-player who came out after his retirement and started an organization to encourage tolerance, has spoken with Tyree and received assurances that Tyree would support an out gay player.
Quite honestly, the Tyree hire by the New York Giants is emotionally charged for me personally. Is it because I am an out gay man? Of course. Even more, it's because I am a rabid New York Giants fan. I remember putting the news on one night in June of 2011 and seeing Tyree - our Super Bowl hero - in front of a microphone spewing his homophobic words. I had just left a call center where I spent about four hours with other activists calling New York voters to get them in contact with their legislators to voice support for marriage equality. At the edge of my bed, I was crushed.
I mourned the loss of what was a wonderful memory for me as a Giants fan: Tyree's improbable catch, one of the greatest plays in the history of the Super Bowl. The Giants were playing the undefeated Patriots and were major underdogs. On third and long, Giant quarterback Eli Manning pulled free from the grasps of defenders to chuck the ball at Tyree, who caught it with one hand cupping the pigskin against his helmet. At that moment it seemed like destiny: Nothing was going to stop the Giants from winning.
As I watched Tyree on television in 2011, I knew that I would never remember that play again in the same way. It would no longer be an opportunity to relive the pure bliss of that moment as a Giants fan. That memory would forever be attached to these horrible words about me, my relationship with my partner, and my community.
Tyree permanently stole my favorite moment as a Giant fan. In my mind he wasn't just a bigot, he was a thief. He also brought my dissertation for my Ph.D. in ethics to life. In my thesis, I argued how Christian views on homosexuality damage people's relationship to their sexuality.
I hope Davis is right and Tyree is on the path toward evolution. A change in his stance would be as heroic an effort as it was to trap that ball against his helmet. He isn't making a change like President Obama who while stating his opposition to marriage quality voiced it with qualification and the promise to make work on behalf of gay rights. In his opposition, Obama never stated that marriage quality would lead to anarchy and the end of society as we know it. At the same time, while Obama's own evolution is not as radical as Tyree's needs to be, he too deserved to be challenged which I have done in the past.
Tyree proactively left whatever he was doing to work full-time against gay marriage in New York state. He used his celebrity capital to work against us days before the legislature was voting on the issue. If he has changed his views that would be wonderful. But, a change of tolerance by him will need to be radical and, because of this, we should remain skeptical all the while hoping that he can transform.
Because Tyree is in a similar position to what an HR role would be in business, the Giants should provide him with training from someone who is schooled in workplace tolerance. It is very important that no member of the team feel like they could not go to him because of the things he has said publicly through the media and his Twitter feed.
In the past, I stopped buying products of companies connected to anti-gay causes or personalities. When it comes to the Giants, we have history. I gasped at "The Fumble" in 1978, cheered in a Buffalo bar when Scott Norwood kicked "wide right" in the 1991 Super Bowl, survived the Ray Handley years, and experienced many more ups and downs.
No matter if bad or good stuff happened on the field, whether I was mad at them or happy, I came back the next week to cheer for the Giants again. This feels different. Instead of me entering their world as a fan, this feels like the Giants have come into my world in a way which dismisses the very person I am. The personnel any organization chooses says something about them. This incident make the Giants seem small. Or, you might say, small-minded.
I should note that some believe that the Giants are one of the most pro-gay organizations in the NFL. The pre-eminent gay sports journalist Cyd Zeigler who founded Outsports is communicating this position strongly through the controversy. He let me know on Twitter that the Giants ownership was pro-gay marriage in New York and works well with pro-gay sports organizations.
Still, the hiring of Tyree has made me think the unthinkable: Do I need to quit my Giants? Is that even possible after all these years as a fan? I will continue to watch the story evolve with great interest. And, I will do this with healthy skepticism. As I lost the pure joy of that Super Bowl memory, I hope I don't lose my team as well.
Follow Paul Gorrell, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PaulGorrell