David Tyree, the former New York Giants wide receiver who caught the "impossible reception" against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, has been the target of some harsh criticism this week following the announcement of his hiring by the New York Giants as their new director of player development. There's reason for consternation as three years ago Tyree actively opposed same-sex marriage in New York and hinted that he supported "gay conversion therapy."
Wade Davis, the former NFL player and executive director of the You Can Play project, has talked with Tyree several times over the last six weeks. Davis told me that he was pretty skeptical when he first met Tyree at the NFL rookie symposium in June. He was well aware of Tyree's place as a face of the anti-LGBT-equality forces.
Yet Tyree was the one who approached Davis, thanking him for his work. It was a gesture Tyree didn't have to make, but he felt it important to acknowledge Davis' contributions to a changing NFL.
When Davis caught up with Tyree again this week, he asked the new Giants hire if he understood why so many people were upset with him.
"He said he got it, and that he said some inflammatory things," Davis said. "He wants people to know that we don't have to agree on everything for him to treat people well."
Davis asked Tyree how he'd feel if Michael Sam were on the Giants.
"He said he had no problem with Michael's sexual orientation, and that his job is to make the players better, and that he needs to make sure he gets better too and that he needs to understand the damage of things that he's done in the past."
The kicker in all of this is Tyree's past mention of "former homosexuals." Davis said Tyree didn't know the term "conversion therapy" and was surprised that people were associating him with that.
"Verbatim, he said he doesn't think 'anyone needs that kind of therapy.'"
Tyree told Davis that at the time he was under attack for his beliefs. He responded with everything he had, which included an experience meeting two people who claimed to be formerly gay.
"He did meet a couple people who told him they were ex-gays. He said he hasn't met a ton of people who are gay but that he's looking to develop a long relationship with me and other gay people to learn more about it. And it's going to be a growth process for him, and he's going to need to have a friendship with someone who is LGBT and spend quality time with him.
"I think he feels badly about the stuff he said three years ago."
So where does this leave us? Chances are, Tyree still does not believe in same-sex marriage. It also sounds like he is willing to listen and learn. It's hard to say someone doesn't deserve to keep their job because they oppose same-sex marriage when the LGBT community enthusiastically has supported many political candidates who have equally opposed LGBT equality. If President Obama can "evolve," so can Tyree, and it sounds like he has already started that process. Twenty years from now he'll look back and be embarrassed for opposing same-sex marriage, but right now he's just struggling with the issue.
As for "conversion therapy" or "reparative therapy," it sounds like it's a concept Tyree didn't know much about other than having a couple people tell him they changed from being gay. Davis couldn't have been more clear that Tyree doesn't think gay people need therapy or to change who they are. It sounds like Tyree never thought gay people should go through conversion therapy, but rather that he simply thought it was possible. Davis couldn't have been more clear to Tyree about the damages caused by this kind of thing.
Frankly, it sounds like Tyree is on the "right" path. I know it took my father a while to fully embrace the fact that his son was gay. It took Obama years to "evolve." I remember my early conversations with Michael Irvin about these issues in 2008; By the time 2011 came along, his perspective had shifted in large part because of his friendship with me.
I look forward to hearing more about Tyree's journey on this issue in the months and years ahead.