Commentary Religion

Why Did ‘Values Voters’ Attendees Laugh About Gays Being Killed by Nazis?

Sharona Coutts

In the midst of his speech at last weekend’s Values Voter Summit, Glenn Beck seemed momentarily taken aback by the depth of his audience’s contempt for gay people.

Click here for all our coverage of the 2013 Values Voter Summit.

In the midst of his speech at this weekend’s Values Voter Summit, Glenn Beck seemed momentarily taken aback by the depth of his audience’s contempt for gay people.

Beck was on stage, flanked by the insignia of the Family Research Council—the right-wing Christian group that sponsored the event—holding a folder of plastic sleeves in which he had inserted copies of some of the most notorious badges in history: yellow stars, red triangles, and other colorful symbols.

“The black [one] was an anarchist,” Beck told the crowd, as he flipped through the plastic sheets, holding each exhibit up for them to see. “This meant that you were a Jewish criminal. This meant a communist, here. This is just a Jewish person,” he said, pointing to each Nazi symbol.

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As he held up the yellow star, Beck put on a whining, effeminate voice, and said: “I’m sure the mainstream media is going to say, ‘He’s a Nazi! He loves the Nazis.’ Yeah, why don’t you try to write this one in context.”

Here is that context: Beck had the mostly fundamentalist Christian crowd in—pardon the pun—raptures. He was towing the rhetorical line that dominated this year’s summit, namely that fundamentalist Christians are being victimized by every conceivable group in society. Over the course of the three-day conference, speakers led the attendees to identify with slaves prior to abolition, with African Americans today, with Native Americans, and, most especially, with victims of the Holocaust. The underlying ideological sleight of hand is to allow the overwhelmingly white and middle-class crowd to displace these historically persecuted groups, and see themselves, in 2013, as the true heirs and victims of tyrannical and murderous oppression.

By seeing themselves as victims and the targets of Nazis, many of the so-called Values Voters can justify their other political stances. This contorted logic allows them to frame their inability to impose their religious worldview on all Americans (and on other nations, for that matter), not as a sign of pluralism and democracy, but as religious oppression—oppression of their desire to impose their religion on everyone.

The persecution mythology also feeds into their narrative about guns. At a breakfast event titled “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” speakers said repeatedly that all repressive regimes seek to take away individuals’ guns. The implication is that Values Voters need their guns to fend off a tyrannical government; but also, that any government’s attempt to limit gun ownership is proof of that government’s tyrannical bent.

Beck touched on many of these themes. His speech, which was illustrated by his signature chalk board, on which he had scrawled a hodge-podge of names and ideas, skipped over a bewildering array of right-wing talking points. He talked about the difference, as he sees it, between American “exceptionalism,” which, in his view, is real, versus “manifest destiny,” which he sees as a form of arrogance. He talked about how the Nazis used the notion of “compassion” to justify certain murders, particularly of infants with disabilities. Then he joked about threatening to drown his son in the family swimming pool.

As his talk reached a crescendo, Beck continued to flip through the different Nazi symbols contained in his folder, searching for the symbol that would tie together the persecution theme of his speech, and give his audience the rhetorical pay-off they were awaiting.

But as he fumbled through the folder, it became apparent that Beck’s performance was fishtailing. He couldn’t find the symbol he was looking for, and his speech became a jumbled catalog of the other Nazi badges—which had meant death for millions—that he was casually holding up for the audience to see. (In light of Beck’s request that his remarks be reported in context, we have included a verbatim quote of this commentary.)

“This is a Jewish … blue … I’m trying to remember it … ah … I had it categorized, every one … ah … blue I believe was …. Ah shoot, I’ve lost it. Guys? I’ve left it behind, the other star. The other star that I have, I’ve left it back stage, is purple. Does anyone know what the purple star is?”

He went on to explain to the audience that the purple star was reserved for the group that the Nazis called “Bible scholars.”

The relevance to Beck’s crowd is obvious. By allowing U.S. fundamentalist Christians to believe that the Nazis exterminated “Bible scholars,” Beck played into the narrative of victimization and persecution, and allowed them to appropriate the Holocaust as their own tragedy. Many of the Values Voters, of course, study the Bible every day, and Beck intended them to believe that the Nazis would have killed them for doing so. (In the interest of full disclosure, I note that I am a third-generation Holocaust survivor; most of the maternal side of my family was murdered in Poland.)

Of course, the key problem with Beck’s story is that it is false. There was in fact a purple triangle in the concentration camps, and it was in fact forced upon a group known as “Bible scholars.” But that was a term used by the Nazis to refer to Jehovah’s Witnesses, thousands of whom perished in the concentration camps. It is false to say that Nazis targeted “Bible scholars” in the way that Beck’s audience was led to understand that term.

But before Beck could locate the purple star, one of his audience members responded to his question about the color of the star, by shouting, “Was it pink?”

Beck immediately replied, “No, that’s gay.”

The audience erupted in laughter.

It’s hard to know exactly what motivated each person in that room to laugh at that moment. Was it because it seems funny that gay people were also murdered in the Nazi concentration camps? Was it because of the apparent absurdity, in their point of view, of confusing “legitimate” victims of the Holocaust (Jews, Christians, people with disabilities) with those who they believe might really deserve to be killed? What part of the audience’s “values” made that reference to gay people seem so funny?

Whatever the reason for the laughter, it seemed to catch Beck off-guard, and added to the chaotic tone that had gripped his speech.

Though he quickly regained composure, and continued with his spaghetti-on-the-chalkboard speech, the disquieting ambiguity of that moment overwhelmed any other message Beck was trying to convey.

Commentary Media

Raymond Moore May Have Resigned, But His Comments About Women’s Tennis Betray a Broader Problem

Shireen Ahmed

What this situation makes clear is the glaring reality that women's tennis players often don't have institutionalized support or solidarity from their male colleagues.

Just before the final match of the BNP Paribas Open Tournament in Indian Wells, California, on March 20, tournament director Raymond Moore stunned the tennis world with misguided, sexist comments regarding women’s tennis. The aftermath is somewhat reminiscent of a shoddy political campaigncomplete with inappropriate gaffes, a deluge of critiques, apologies, and then a resignation.

Sexism in sports is quite prevalent, so women are accustomed to seeing reports of asinine commentary. The frequency of such attitudes does not mean that such remarks are not harmful to women’s sports or that they ought to be taken lightly. What this situation makes clear, however, is the glaring reality that women’s tennis players often don’t have institutionalized support or solidarity from their male colleagues. This is discouraging, as tennis is widely regarded by members of the media as the sport that other federations should look to as an example of pay equity and camaraderie. Women consistently fight battles on their own with little backup from male players, men’s tennis associations, and other athletes. This is part of the problem in a system that allows sexism to flourish in women’s sports.

Moore chose to make mind-bogglingly misplaced comments to the usual media scrum that precedes the final match. His comments were unprovoked and unrelated to any specific issue. Instead, he simply offered his observations on female players: “I think the WTA [Women’s Tennis Association] … you know, in my next life when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA, because they ride on the coattails of the men,” Moore said. “They don’t make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky. If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport. They really have.”

To add insult to injury, Moore proceeded to comment on—wait for itthe level of physical beauty of specific players. Moore named Eugenie Bouchard of Canada and Garbine Muguruza of Spain as being among the “attractive prospects” on the tour. When asked to clarify about what he meant by attractive. Moore replied, “They are physically attractive and competitively attractive,” he said. “They can assume the mantle of leadership once Serena [Williams] decides to stop. They really have quite a few very, very attractive players.”

As a fan of tennis, I was aghast. And as a feminist sports writer, I was horrified.

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In addition to being inappropriate and insulting, Moore’s comments were factually incorrect. When I think of this sport, I think of a legendary history of advocacy coupled with enthralling athleticism displayed by female tennis superstars. In 1956, Althea Gibson became the first Black woman to win a major international tournament after years of being shut out by the all-white U.S. Lawn Tennis Association. She battled racist systems and even against hotels who would refuse to book a space in their establishments for a luncheon to honor her and her accomplishments. Gibson certainly helped to elevate the standards of the game.

Perhaps Moore also forgot about Billie Jean King. King engulfed herself in advocating for women’s rights after realizing that a woman’s place in tennis was economically restricted. When King won Wimbledon in 1968, she received £750, but her male counterpart Rod Laver won £2000. In 1973, she famously accepted a challenge from self-proclaimed “male chauvinist” Bobby Riggs and won in three straight sets. Not only did an estimated 50 million people across 37 countries watch the epic “Battle of the Sexes,” but King drew much-needed attention to financial inequality and created the WTA. Former professional tennis player Chris Evert has said of King’s contributions: “Everybody should thank her and shake her hand. She put money in our pockets and provided a living for hundreds and hundreds of female athletes.”

And then there is Serena Williams, who was competing at the tournament in question and who has been hailed by tennis pundits as the best player the United States has ever produced of all time. The 21-time Grand Slam winner is not only a champion of women’s sports; she is a one of the female athletes who routinely speaks up about issues that affect them. Williams has been the target of ruthless and racist sports media. She has been maligned, yet still uses her platform to connect with important organizations such as Equal Justice Initiative and has boycotted major tournaments because of her convictions. And Williams enthralls and inspires million of people with her grace, strength, and top form.

Thanks in part to the work of Gibson, King, Williams, and others, gender inequity is not as stark in tennis as it is in other sports. Tennis associations are reputed to be the most even-salaried for women and their male counterparts. However, if Moore’s comment and others are any indication, it seems as if ingrained sexist ideologies simmer under the lid.

The reactions to Moore’s comments, from King, Evert, and Martina Navratilova, to name a few players, were swift and appropriately angry:

Williams, meanwhile, was very eloquent in her reaction to Moore’s comments: “You know, there’s only one way to interpret that. Get on your knees, which is offensive enough, and thank a man, which is not—we, as women, have come a long way. We shouldn’t have to drop to our knees at any point.”

Williams reiterated the point that the 2015 U.S. Open women’s finals sold out before the men’s. It is not the case that men shoulder more responsibility or interest in tennis more so than women. And, as Jane McManus of espnW noted, Moore’s comments call into question his ability to be an effective tournament director for a co-ed event that relies on the celebrity of the women’s game. “You can’t have a tournament director for a men’s and women’s tournament who doesn’t believe the women carry their weight,” McManus wrote.

In the midst of this criticism, Moore issued an eager apology.

While Moore was trying to navigate through the mess he created, sports media outlets asked other prominent players what they thought of his comments. Very unfortunately, the world’s number-one ranked male player, Novak Djokovic, used the opportunity to lecture awkwardly about how pay inequality would be justified because men garner more income than women on the tennis circuit.

“I think that our men’s tennis world … should fight for more, because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches,” Djokovic said. “I think that’s one of the, you know, reasons why maybe we should get awarded more.”

Djokovic also added in some inexplicable comments about women’s bodies and their hormones—yes, hormones—going through “different things.” He ended his obtuse statement with the very subtle: “Ladies know what I am talking about.”

The stream of off-the-cuff sexist remarks and subsequent apologies is very popular, apparently. After being counseled by fellow tennis player Andy Murray, Djokovic insisted in a Facebook post that he never meant any offense or “negative connotations.”

But his knee-jerk reaction was also to insist that his comments were taken out of context. Instead of stating that he was wrong and will not repeat the same mistake, he placed the burden on others who might have been offended for taking his comments “the wrong way.”

I don’t believe his comments were interpreted incorrectly; I believe he, like many male sports stars, was simply unwilling to own up to his comments.

Sports writer and tennis enthusiast Lindsay Gibbs reported for ThinkProgress that when the Association of Tennis Professionals was asked to comment on Moore or Djokovic’s remarks, its statement was a baffling argument against equal prize money.

“That’s right—given a very obvious opportunity to take a strong stand against sexism and promote equality, men’s tennis instead decided to make the argument against equal prize money,” Gibbs wrote. “This cycle is as exhausting as it is self-defeating.”

There are those who avoid these messes by educating themselves and properly articulating their support of women’s tennis. Former pro tennis player Patrick McEnroe said he was “livid” at Moore’s comments and publicly called for him to resign.

WTA Tour Chief Executive Steve Simon also declared his unwavering endorsement of equal pay for female players before the start of the Miami Open. And Murray was quick to denounce Djokovic’s position and insisted that his words “do not stack up.” He mentioned that quite often, tennis fans come to watch Williams specifically.

Overall, though, the advocacy offered to women is unstable and inconsistent. While discussing how women mobilized to earn a proper salary, King told espnW during an interview at Wimbledon last year, “The men will never give us credit.”

The dim silver lining of all this seems to be that wider discussions of gender inequality in pay and institutionalized sexism have been prevalent in mainstream, male-dominated sports media, which would otherwise seldom address such topics. But so long as there are men in positions of power asked to comment on issues in women’s sports—as is the case with tennis—they also need to participate in vocalizing their support for female athletes. Solidarity with women, which includes not maligning the efforts of female athletes, is important to ensuring consistent growth of the sport. For men at all levels to reiterate that women’s sports are powerful and exciting goes a long way in dismantling sexist ideology suggesting women’s sports do not hold broad appeal, that they are somehow less “interesting” than men’s sports, or that, like Moore suggested, they are piggybacking off male athletes’ success.

While men remain in the roles of executive directors, administrators, and decision makers, it is crucial for them to back up female playersparticularly because that recognition is well deserved.

So many women’s tennis players have brought issues of social justice to the forefront. They are addressing pressing issues of sexism but also of race, class, and gender identity. These feats go far beyond only winning trophies. These women are fostering change in society through sports.

How unjust and ignorant of Moore to erase these accomplishments.

On March 21, Moore resigned as tournament director of Indian Wells. I sincerely hope that the next tournament director is far more enlightened of the enormous contributions to tennis and sports that female players have had.

Moore’s initial comments ballooned into an issue involving other men and highlighted the recurring sexism that plagues sports. Their mea culpas ring hollow at a time when women’s tennis features brilliant female players. The point is certainly not to avoid making sexist comments in front of the cameras. It is to understand that sexist comments are doing a disservice to the sport and are incorrect and unjust, and must be addressed and corrected by everyone, not just the women they affect directly.

It was not only Title IX nor the “coattails of men” that created the genius and success of women’s tennis; it was the women themselves.

Commentary Violence

Patrick Kane and the Culture of Disbelief About Rape

Katie Klabusich

Right now I have to consider that this season I may be a rape survivor cheering for a team led by an accused rapist.

Practically everyone in Chicago has a Patrick Kane story.

As a former bartender who was slinging drinks in the Windy City when hockey reappeared like magic on our televisions in 2007 turning a lost generation of Chicagoans into fans of the young, exciting team featuring first-year phenom Kane and his captain, Jonathan Toews, I certainly have mine. And though I’ve always been more of a Patrick Sharp girl (I’m almost done crying about the trade), I’ve appreciated Kane’s work on the ice—delivering three championships in six seasons. I’ve also sort of appreciated him in a bizzaro feminist way for having managed his party rep without his name being automatically associated amongst service staff with misconduct allegations à la Steelers champion quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Until now.

Blackhawks fans who had planned to spend the summer celebrating the return of Lord Stanley’s Cup must instead come to terms with the news that their star 26-year-old forward is an accused rapist. As criminal defense attorney turned sports reporter and rape survivor Julie DiCaro has covered so adeptly for the Chicago Tribune, some are handling it better than others.

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“When it comes to the Kane investigation, Internet stupidity abounds,” writes DiCaro, below a list of representative examples. “And while it’s tempting to laugh off some of the comments as written by misguided juveniles with a serious case of hero worship, the problem is actually much bigger. Tweets, comments, rumors and news reports like those above are reflective of the way our society treats those who report rape.”

While local radio hosts and writers are largely handling the situation with grace and consideration for all involved, DiCaro’s words aren’t hitting home for a significant portion of the Blackhawks fan base. You couldn’t pay me enough to be a call screener for a local sports station right now.

***

Kane spent Saturday, August 2 at SkyBar, a popular nightclub in his hometown of Buffalo, New York, reportedly leaving around 3 a.m. with two women to continue partying at his house in nearby suburban Hamburg. Around 4 a.m., one of the women—whose name is being withheld (police say they are abiding by a gag order)—went into another room by herself; Kane reportedly followed and raped her.

The alleged victim then did what rape culture deniers demand of all sexual assault survivors: she found her friend, left, and called a family member on her way to the hospital, where she submitted to an exam and reported the attack to law enforcement. To their credit, Hamburg police appear to be taking her accusations seriously; they have searched Kane’s home and the case has been assigned to Roseanne John, head of the Special Victims Unit in the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. Research outlined in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence estimates that almost half of rape survivors who report experience “secondary victimization” by law enforcement. Being believed by enough personnel (most rape victims must tell their stories repeatedly) to prompt the search of a local celebrity’s home and the hiring of an expert SVU prosecutor before potential charges are filed shows a level of engagement and willingness to believe the victim we can’t, unfortunately, take for granted.

According to details obtained by the Buffalo News, the alleged victim even bears the marks rape apologists and perpetrators of the “stranger rape myth” expect of anyone truly not consenting to the encounter: bite marks on her shoulders and a scratch on her leg. She has behaved as a supposedly model victim, fighting back physically and then legally, risking the public ridicule that descends upon anyone who dare sully the name of a beloved athlete.

Obviously, I don’t know exactly what happened that night; I’m not privy to the ongoing police investigation or hospital reports and I haven’t had interview time with Kane’s accuser. What I do know is that statistically, I can’t expect relief for the knot in my stomach that formed when I first saw headlines of the incident. Research tells us that more than 92 percent of rape reports are credible. Considering we hardly have a contingent of rape survivors who were granted fame and fortune as a reward for accusing a well-known man of assault, I’m inclined to eschew society’s unfortunate convention and simply believe her until I see evidence she put herself through this ordeal without cause.

I’m not on a jury, so save the “innocent until proven guilty” nonsense. That’s a legal term, not a cultural requirement.

And, listen. I’ll be uncomfortably honest: like any fan of any sport (or anything, really), my heart sank when I heard that an integral member of a team I have rooted for—whose jersey hangs in my closet—was being investigated for something heinous. Also like any fan, my first impulse was to close my eyes and utter the sentence, “Please don’t let it be true.”

For anyone who’s more than just a casual sports consumer, it’s understandable to hope your team isn’t tarnished or is about to lose a player so good, a mere seven years in he’s already past the 100-point mark in his playoff career. With a contract extension through 2022-2023, Kane is poised to become the most celebrated player in team history. Permanently breaking up the Kane-Toews line would likely usher in another championship drought.

So, of course I had the thought. As hard as it is to admit, that was my first impulse. I’m human, which means my brain automatically considers how unexpected news will affect me before processing what it means for other people. Because I am a justice-oriented survivor who’s educated on the effects of rape culture and understand what it takes for someone to report, I processed all of that in pretty rapid succession—but I have to admit to myself that even I started from a self-serving mental moment of disbelief.

What I haven’t done and won’t do is participate in the toxic pastime of victim-bashing as a show of support for my bro, Kaner. Almost as though he knew it was on the way, Chicago sportswriter Tim Baffoe published an outstanding critique of “He’s my guy!” style fandom the day before a rape apology-laden hashtag caught fire. Ostensibly designed to prop up #88, the #iSupport88 thread is a predictable haven for crass name-calling, rape “jokes,” and non sequitur love for Bill Cosby and other celebrities accused of sexual assault.

In his piece, Baffoe holds nothing back, saying, “Patrick Kane is not your friend. You are not his dawg, and he is not your bro … And you need to stop with the garbage default setting of rushing to defend him. Even under the guise of “innocent until proven guilty.’”

In a tight-knit sports town like Chicago that thrives on the perception of personal connection, those are fighting words. Baffoe was just getting started:

The reflex of “Leave Kaner alone—you’re ruining his reputation!” or anything remotely putting the onus on the woman involved shows you’ve let sports fandom strip you of your humanity. Your ethics have grown so out of whack while drunk on being a fangirl or fanboy that you’ve drowned your soul. You value sports over violation of the human body, and you then become no different than, say, a defender of [child-abuse enabler] Joe Paterno.

Well done, sir.

Right now I have to consider that this season I may be a rape survivor cheering for a team led by an accused rapist. And so, for the remainder of the off-season, I’m rooting for law enforcement, the Blackhawks organization, and the National Hockey League to break from rape culture and handle the case in a way that recognizes the needs of the alleged victim as more important than the reputation of the accused.

I’m not entirely sure what the appropriate action for the Blackhawks and the NHL to take would look like. How do they balance the uncertainty of an ongoing investigation with the rapidly approaching start of training camp? As SI.com writer Allan Muir succinctly paraphrased Chicago Tribune columnist David Haugh yesterday, “Kane’s uncertain legal status puts the Hawks in an impossible position. With training camp less than six weeks away and the justice system moving at its own deliberate pace, the team may be forced to suspend the star winger.”

Do the Blackhawks wait? Do they hope the league steps in to suspend him, letting them off the hook? Would the team or the league be on solid ground legally to suspend a player before there are charges and/or a conviction, as Haugh calls for?

“In the post-Ray Rice era of professional sports, a first-class franchise such as the Hawks cannot allow a player facing serious allegations to represent it until more clarity about the case exists,” Haugh wrote. “The thing about setting a standard of excellence as high as the Hawks have is living up to it; no single player, not even a living legend, can compromise that commitment to integrity.”

I’m inclined to agree that the risk of sending Kane out on the ice despite the statistical probability that the accusations are true is more risky than suspending him and being forced to apologize later, should his accuser recant or turn out to be in the false reporting minority. And I certainly applaud the decision by EA Sports yesterday to pull Kane from their NHL 16 cover and promotional roll-out:

For people who couldn’t care less about sports, why does the handling of a rape accusation by a professional sports team or league matter? I get this question on the regular every time another high-profile athlete is accused of assault or National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell does something detestable. The answer is simple: We are a nation of sports fans and human beings do not compartmentalize our experiences. It’s not just that athletes are disproportionately revered in our society; for better or worse, they’re recognizable public figures even outside their fan bases. According to a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair Poll last year, over 100 million people had watched the Super Bowl despite 25 percent of respondents saying football “has the most jerks” out of any professional league.

People are disinclined to believe someone they know is capable of a crime like rape. Seeing someone’s face and hearing their name as often as is typical of stars and champions leads people to feel, as Baffoe pushed back on, like we know them. Even if we don’t like a player very much, it’s quite a step to go from dislike to believing someone is the evil outlier our culture tells us commits rape.

Because of this culture of disbelief, the language that’s used as the investigation continues is extremely important—as evidenced by the somewhat predictable vitriol of the #ISupport88 crowd. Those close to Kane and the team have been tight-lipped, but the statements that have been made manage to walk the line of avoiding the kind of enthusiastic support that erases or gaslights victims while not openly condemning someone who hasn’t yet been charged with a crime.

Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz briefly weighed in with firmer language than sports fans are used to hearing at an allegation stage of a potential public relations nightmare, saying, “We’re disappointed but hopeful,” Wirtz said. “Beyond that, it would not be appropriate to expound upon.”

If the team makes the move to suspend Kane preemptively, it’ll be sending a strong signal not just to players, but to fans—specifically female fans. The Blackhawks boast a 45 percent female fan base that’s well above the league average of 37 percent and is partly responsible for their ability to re-sign Kane and Toews for a combined $168 million. You can’t afford that price tag without both routinely selling every ticket in your stadium and bringing in massive merchandise sales numbers. The Blackhawks wouldn’t have as much of their team intact without us.

Simply continuing to refrain from hinting at motives on the behalf of the alleged victim or from promising to stand by the accused no matter what would be a bright spot in the very dark intersection of sports and rape culture. But Wirtz and the league owe more to both their female fans and to a city that welcomed them back with open arms after years of inaccessibility. If league rules allow for a suspension, the Blackhawks should take that action. If they don’t, it’s time for the league to revisit how it handles the misconduct of its players.

I’m rooting for the NHL and the Blackhawks to do the right thing so I can buy a new jersey this fall and cheer without hesitation for a team I love.