Last week, San Francisco radio host Damon Bruce took some time out of his busy day of doing whatever it is he usually does to explain that sports are men's business, that women can't understand sports any more than men can understand the pain of childbirth, and that women, and men who pretend to care about their opinions, are to blame for much of what's wrong with sports.
Having vigorously and deliberately insulted half of the American population, Bruce rightly came in for a lot of criticism, the gist of which was, "Well, there are lots of women who play and write about and follow sports, and saying that they have no business in sports is incredibly stupid and offensive, especially because it's difficult for women in sports to be taken as seriously as they deserve."
Somewhat inexplicably, the beloved baseball writer Rob Neyer decided to stick up for Bruce on Twitter despite having admittedly not listened to what he'd said, apparently because Bruce had been nice to him. This led to some people saying, more or less, "Really, Rob? Come on, man," and then everyone forgot about it until earlier today, when Neyer for some reason decided to take this out of the realm of ephemeral controversy and into full-on defense of bigotry as working in the service of justice:
[S]ome people would prefer to wipe hate speech from the public consciousness completely, and I'm pretty sure that's the wrong answer. The optimal level of hate speech? I don't think anyone can say. It does serve a purpose, though. Because those thoughts won't disappear just because their advocates disappear from the airwaves. To counter the thoughts, to change minds, the people doing God's work need foils.
This is essentially the logic of the fevered Internet commenter, by which someone writing about racism in sports is the real racist because by definition only racists ever see race as a story. Implicitly, it treats the actual subject under discussion as less important than the right to not only take an unpopular stance on that subject, but to take it without having to worry about being criticized for it.
As Neyer has it, Bruce was wrong, but to say that he was wrong—to publicly take active offense at someone writing off everyone from Sally Jenkins to Ronda Rousey as being inherently unworthy of stepping into the supposed domain of men—is its own kind of wrong. It shows that you lack "any real convictions, any real bravery." It shows that you're more concerned with policing the boundaries of discourse than participating in it, more interested in stifling and demonizing speech than in exchanging ideas, more worried about not offending than about testing the limits of allegedly transient social norms.
Neyer's lesser error here is to treat Bruce's abstract, conceptual right to explain why women really have nothing to say about sports as something that's under assault and has value, if only for how it signifies an open discourse. The right of men to yell about how women need to stop talking about man stuff isn't in any real danger, though. (If it has any value whatsoever, it's only in a heighten-the-contradictions sense.) What is under a constant, low-grade assault is the ability of women to write about and participate in sports without being reminded that they have no place in them. There is a real problem here, and it isn't people pointing out that there's a problem.
Neyer's greater error, though, is treating what Bruce had to say as just another product for sale in the marketplace of ideas. As any number of people have pointed out, it's impossible to imagine anyone at all defending this on any level if it involved someone talking about why black or Jewish people really have nothing to say about sports. There's the right to give offense, and the right to be offended by people who take offense to offense-giving, and all the levels of abstraction beyond that, and then there's the reality of some asshole on the radio reminding everyone out there listening that women don't matter, and that the best thing they can do for everyone is shut the fuck up.