"People should have the freedom to not be associated with that," Stephen A Smith said about the homosexual kiss exchanged by Michael Sam and his boyfriend after Sam was drafted by the Rams in the last round of the NFL draft.
ESPN commentators Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless condemned the Miami Dolphins' decision to suspend safety Don Jones after he tweeted "omg" and "horrible" while watching coverage of Michael Sam celebrating becoming the first openly gay NFL player.
During a segment on ESPN's First Take Monday, the two sports analyst, who usually disagree on just about every topic, agreed that The Dolphins again handled an internal issue poorly.
The Dolphins fined Jones an undisclosed amount, and suspended the 2nd year safety from associating with the team until at least after training camp for his reaction They are forcing him to attend sensitivity training, and he had to remove his twitter account, and issue a public apology.
On First Take, Smith, who said the kiss didn't bother him personally, said people should not be punished just for reacting negatively to a homosexual couple kissing, and insisted that those with views that do not condone homosexual behavior should also be respected. He told an anecdotal story about meeting a store owner who said he had trouble when the gay couple came on TV, because his children were present when he was watching the draft coverage.
Smith pointed out that tolerance does not equal 'liking' or condoning a certain behavior, and he expressed he felt like the Dolphins reaction was too harsh and tread on dangerous ground.
" I'm of the mindset that there is freedom of speech. People have the right to say what they feel, and if there are ramifications for it, so be it, " he said. "If advertisers and sponsors and them, they don't want to endorse them or something like that, well then that's the price you clearly were willing to pay and you have to pay it," expressing that some degree of a negative respose should have been expected when ESPN chose to air the footage.
"But I think it's a very, very dangerous thing when people see something and they have a problem with what they're seeing and they express themselves and ultimately they're fined," he continued.
He said the gay community should understand that some people are not going to want to associate with them, or like their behavior.
Bayless backed Smith up by continuing the same line of thought.
"I also defend the right of those who believe that the Bible says a man should not be with a man and a woman should not be with a woman. If you believe that, then because your country was founded on religious freedom, then you have the right to believe that. But again, those in the locker room, who hold that spiritual or Christian view, that biblical view, they still, they need to be tolerant of Michael Sam," said Bayless.
Having spoken to prominent pastors on both sides of the issue, Bayless said he is personally split, like he sees a fracture in the Christian Church on the topic. Bayless advocated tolerance, but felt the spin of this topic went from a one time controversy, into something that was being shoved down viewer's throats.
"For those who don't believe it, the repetition on this and other networks was cringe worthy after a while," he said.
Smith also added: "If we're going to call ourselves a Christian nation, then we have to be sensitive to some of the beliefs that emanate from the Christian religion," He said he didn't feel "qualified" to address the moral nature of homosexuality, but agreed with Bayless that ESPN and other networks had bombarded people with the coverage.
"When someone is willing to say, I was watching the NFL draft. I didn't expect to see that. It just shocked me. And oh by the way, it was shown over and over and over again and I wasn't ready for that.' Is that wrong? Is that a crime? Is that something that warrants a fine and being ostracized from team activities until training camp?'" he added.
Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams as the 249th pick in the seventh round. He fell within the final 10 picks of the draft, and still has to earn a spot on the team to play next season.
To watch the segment on First Take, click here.