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Ignorance vs. Hate

Shockey Showed the Former, the E-Mailers the Latter

(This story was published in 2002).

By: Bill Konigsberg


I sit here at my computer, my gut twisted into tiny, painful knots.

I've just read as much as I could have of the hate e-mails Outsports received from the "enlightened" folks who read about the site at the Daily News or my former employer, ESPN.com. I got through about half. All I can do is shake my head as I think of the hard hatred displayed in those letters.

Note that I use the word hatred, and not ignorance. To my mind, Jeremy Shockey's comments were ignorant. The e-mails were hateful. The roots of Shockey's ignorance are lack of experience. The hatred, I imagine, arose from being challenged by something so contrary to these people's world view.

Hatred scares and upsets me. It reminds me of when I would be involved in user feedback at ESPN.com. We'd ask a question and ask for e-mailed responses. We'd get thousands of e-mails and one of us editors would have to sort through them. On a couple of occasions, I had the misfortune of having to deal with a controversial gay topic, or a racial topic. As the obnoxious responses came in, I'd actually have to walk away from my desk and find a quiet spot, put my head in my hands and just allow my mind to go to a better place.

I've always been a wimp when it comes to hate. An equal rights, stick-up-for-the-underdog kind of guy since my toddler years, I used to cry when watching The Price Is Right if a white man overbid a black woman by a dollar and wound up winning the showcase showdown. Call it the logic of a 5-year-old, but it seemed so unfair, and I hated to see people I implicitly knew were "the other" getting the short end of the stick.

Obviously this is not the same thing as the hate I describe above. But to me it's the same reaction I have now. I see things and feel they are unfair, and I find myself upset. Hatred tops the list of things that make me feel this way.

This has probably not served me particularly well in my life. While it's good to be sensitive, especially when you are a fairly big man, it's also good to be able to see things from all perspectives, not just that of the "downtrodden." Also, having emotional reactions to things is generally harder on me. It would be easier to be more of a left-brain guy. I could shut that stuff out.

Amazingly, I had no emotional reaction to Shockey's comments. When I read about his comments on the Howard Stern show, I felt nothing, or close to nothing. His comments appeared ignorant of gay issues, but they did not seem particularly hostile. Just stupid. He didn't say all gays should be shot, he simply said he didn't want one on his football team. He's entitled his opinion. Seems to me he probably has no choice as to whether one is on his team, and should that day ever come, (it probably already has), he'll deal with it, or not.

I mean, when did we get to the point where we felt the need to know the reactions of our athletes to important social questions? I simply don't get it. Gay Rights: I wonder how the Giants tight end might feel? Let's get the opinion of an outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds. Why? Who made the opinions of these people important? I am interested in watching Jeremy Shockey run a slant pattern and make an acrobatic, one-handed grab. I simply don't put much into his opinions on gay issues. Ignorance.

I was much more upset when, last year at my buddy Ed Gallagher's house, he played me the tape of when he was a guest on that show. Ed is the guy who played football for University of Pittsburgh and couldn't deal with the fact he was gay, so he threw himself off a cliff. He's now quadriplegic.

Howard Stern was terrific to him, very kind, as he should have been. But then a caller called in and told Ed he wished he'd succeeded in killing himself. That's hate. Ed just got angry, defensive, like a normal person. Just hearing it on tape, I was back in my 5-year-old self, saddened by something so unfair.

You Can Teach and Ignorant Person

The difference is the hatred. Argue all you want about Shockey's words being full of hate, I still just see ignorance. And hate and ignorance are different. You can teach an ignorant person.

I don't know how to combat hatred. I think it springs up from challenges to people's world visions. No better way than to guarantee a hate response than to tell someone what they think is wrong. And Outsports does what it needs to do to get that message across when necessary. I applaud them for that. It's hard work, necessary work, and someone has to do it.

For the rest of us, I offer my own recipe for happiness and healthiness. Combat ignorance with a firm, loving hand. Show the world who you are, what is good about you, and ignorance fades around you. I believe this with all my heart.

The formula should, conceivably, also work with hate. Combat hate with love, and amazing things happen. I have experienced this a few rare times in arguments, where I am in a heated argument and instead of fanning the flames, I reach out to the person and try to find a middle ground. Usually the person is caught off guard, and almost always the outcome is good. In my experience.

Unfortunately, I'm just not an evolved enough person to work this formula all the time when faced with hatred. It's probably the ideal, but I haven't figured out how to get there when I'm really angry.

When you figure out how to attain it, will you let me know?

Bill Konigsberg is a former editor at ESPN.com