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Should it matter that Mark Madsen donated to Prop Hate?

I’m really at war with myself over this. Canis Hoopus asks about how we fans feel when our favorite athletes support political causes we vehemently disagree with.

A few days ago, I got an email from a friend who was outraged Timberwolves forward Mark Madsen had given $2,500 to Proposition 8, which successfully outlawed gay marriage in California. She wondered if the contribution was newsworthy.

I’m a passionate supporter of gay marriage, viewing its legalization as a matter of fundamental fairness. (Thus, my pejorative headline.) And yet, Madsen is a truly decent guy, one of the best people I’ve ever met who’s also an athlete.

He’s also a sincerely generous and tireless community volunteer, and a respectful and thoughtful interview subject — especially when the subject is his Mormon faith, which was probably a factor in the donation. (The Mormon Church urged his members to give to the cause.)

I admitted I was conflicted about bringing possible bad publicity about a guy I like. (Disclaimer: I do some freelance writing for the Wolves, but am pretty sure I’d regard Madsen the same way regardless.)

Perhaps seeking an escape hatch, I asked my friend if we really need to know/care about an athlete’s politics off the court. Her response was:

As a NBA star and citizen, he, of course, has the right to contribute and affiliate with any cause. But I also think prominent people who fund propositions to take away the civil rights of other people to marry and have families should be publicly acknowledged.

Since the news is out and will undoubtedly spread, I thought I’d open it up for your thoughts. I’m still conflicted, and kinda wish I didn’t know, even though I’m screwing that up for you.

Comments (24)

  1. Submitted by Erica Mauter on 11/14/2008 - 04:03 pm.

    If I really liked/admired an athlete then found out they believed in (and supported with their ample dollars) some things I couldn’t get with, I probably couldn’t turn around and actively dislike them so I’d just downgrade to indifference.

  2. Submitted by Bob Collins on 11/14/2008 - 04:05 pm.

    I wish you luck with this thread, my friend. I tried to get into the broader questions that I think you’re asking. But it never got past the question of whether Proposition 8 was appropriate or not.

    In many ways, the theory seems to be that people should be allowed to engage in the lawful exercise of their citizenry just as other citizens are unless they are engaged in something with which people disagree.

  3. Submitted by Nate Arch on 11/14/2008 - 04:53 pm.

    Thanks for the link. I think it’s actually easier to keep things easier on a sports site than it is on a political one. Granted, we’re a Wolves site so there’s not too many readers (thanks, I’ll be here all night), but the main purpose of all the commenters is to talk about basketball, not the individual issue.

    We’ve branched off a bit into the issue of religion and politics but we’d love to have more comments over at the site:

    I think that we’ve had a few pragmatic points of agreement so far:

    1- The level of fan-based concern is related directly to the stature and playing time of the player in question.

    2- Most fans try to ignore these things and should they pay attention, it is done on a case-by-case basis.

    I’d disagree with Bob because we sports fans deal in winners and losers and ultimately, in terms of public policy, someone has to win out with the question of Prop 8. Since 1/2 of this equation is basing their argument on the ultimate ends of religion, should my “side” win (I’m very much against Prop 8; I believe it to be a violation of equal protection and basic civil rights), I will effectively be telling religious proponents of Prop 8 exactly what they need to believe, at least in terms of public practice, as there is no other earthly way for them to get their anti-Prop 8 kicks out.

    When you introduce religion into politics (and vice versa) you are telling people what to believe…which is a problem in both directions.

  4. Submitted by Nate Arch on 11/14/2008 - 04:55 pm.

    Whoops…”easier keeping things easier” should read “easier keeping things civil”…stupid brain.

  5. Submitted by Jay Weiner on 11/14/2008 - 05:14 pm.

    Yes, of course it matters.

    When an athlete reveals he is gay, it becomes big news.
    When Curt Schilling supports McCain or Baron Davis campaigns for Obama, that’s news.

    I’m always pleased to see athletes taking a stance and not hiding behind marketing concerns.

    Campaign contributions are solid – quiet – ways to express an opinion.

    But I wonder what the reaction would be if a major pro athlete came out strongly FOR gay marriage. How much might that hurt his/her marketing possibilities?

    Not sure that it would, but I wonder.

    Of course, team owners contribute to campaigns all the time and those contributions are now widely reported.

    If Jim Pohlad giving to the Obama campaign is news – and it is – than Mark Madsen contributing to the Prop 8 effort is also news.

    Thanks for the post.

  6. Submitted by Bob Collins on 11/14/2008 - 05:44 pm.

    There is another element to the question. In what capacity are you speaking? If it’s just as a sports fan, then you can like or loathe an athlete for whatever reason you want. Though I was — and still am — a Cleveland Indian fan, I loathed Albert Belle. My colleagues loved him, as long as he hit some jacks with great regularity.

    It’s the other capacity where the question plays out, however. As a journalist. This week, lots of people are being outed by media for their lawful political contributions.

    But who gets to pick the cause? Why is Proposition 8 worth revealing an athletes politics on and not, say, the war in Iraq, or stem cell research or whatever else he/she/it has contributed to.

    I didn’t see anybody calling for the head of Don Lucia when he spoke at the Palin/McCain rally. Is that because people think politics are private, or because the Gophers are #2 in the nation (the last time I checked) and people don’t want to screw with a good thing.

    The critical part is when a principle is suitably applied. Detach the same principle from the issue that has everyone worked up at the moment, and apply it to a similar situation in which one finds oneself on the opposite side, and the key is whether we’re equally as willing to defend the principle.

  7. Submitted by David Brauer on 11/14/2008 - 05:55 pm.

    For the record, I downgraded Mr. Lucia a notch when he exploited his state hockey position to tout the (to me anyway) unqualified Sarah Palin.

    Still, it was his right to do so. Just as it was mine to downgrade him.

  8. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 11/14/2008 - 06:12 pm.

    I agree with Jay Weiner that Mark Madsen sending $2,500 to Yes on Prop 8 is news—-in the same way that athletes or actors taking a public stance on other campaigns is news. But I don’t think it’s worth demonizing him.

    I’ll take David’s word that Madsen is a decent, generous guy. In that case, publicly identifying him with supporting Prop 8 is a great opportunity for opponents of Prop 8 to engage him on it. Not by screaming at him, but thoughtfully explaining why they believe that allowing gay people to marry is a basic legal,civil right.

    I’d love to see a gay family invite Madsen over for dinner some time and talk to him about how Prop 8 affects them. We all live in our own little bubbles. Maybe if Madsen knew more gay couples, he’d feel differently about it.

    Does knowing Madsen sent $2,500 to the Yes on Prop 8 completely define him in my eyes? No. But does it factor in?…… You bet.

    I think sometime in the next 20 years, Prop 8 will be discredited—it will be seen as something right up there with anti-miscegenation laws that were finally over-turned in this country in (freaking!) 1967 in the Loving vs. Virginia case. So Mark’s on the wrong side of history on this one. It’s too bad and I hope he changes his mind some day.

  9. Submitted by Phill Kay on 11/14/2008 - 06:31 pm.

    No, it matters nothing that somebody exercised their free speech rights by supporting their side of the proposition 8 initiative.
    What does matter is the faux blogs being used to intimidate or harass public figures or business owners into giving into the gay lobby, which you seem to have no problem with. What does this have to do with sports? Nothing. What does this have to do with your gay friend (or whatever orientation she is) trying to intimidate Mark Madsen? Everything.
    BTW, I do not hate gays, I hate all the fake kowtowing we must all do to not offend them or how they want us to sit down and shut up when something comes up for a vote. Six million Californians agree with Mark Madsen, and me.

  10. Submitted by Erica Mauter on 11/14/2008 - 07:37 pm.

    I should add that I try not to have such attachments to individual athletes in the first place.

  11. Submitted by Nate Arch on 11/14/2008 - 09:15 pm.

    A couple of things. First of all, no one on our site is calling for anyone’s head.

    I think the notion expressed in comment #9 here is absurd. No one at Hoopus (which is a real blog, btw) is trying to intimidate or harass anyone into giving into the “gay lobby,” whatever the hell that is. Nor are we telling anyone to sit down and shut up. I find it especially entertaining that a commenter who goes out of his way to accuse others of harassment and intimidation would also write about how put out he is that he has to act real hard not to offend anyone. Perhaps he’s jealous of all the open-air offending we’re doing.

    Getting around to Bob’s reply, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a generic clinical detachment in sports or politics that can be applied evenly across the board. Ultimately, with any issue the devil is in the details and the rubber has to hit the road, and I’d argue that in the case of mixing religion and public policy, you are inevitably going to end up with a situation where people are, in practice (not abstract theory) telling other people how they should live their lives. Yes, we all value free speech but disagreement is unavoidable and if someone is extrapolating public policy from their views on religion, you end up with a situation where faith-based positions are given greater weight than their secular counterparts. “I believe it because I believe it” isn’t a position that you can build policy on. It also isn’t something you can argue with or treat with the respect it deserves going back the other way. If I think that Prop 8 is an abomination based on equal protection under the law and someone thinks it’s the cat’s meow because of their deeply held religious beliefs, I’m going to come across as an asshole for saying so and I’m going to incite comments like you see from Phill. It’s not good for either side of the debate to have this sort of thing infused with religion.

    While I sympathize with Bob for his dislike of Albert Belle, people are free to abstractly like and dislike athletes just as they are politicians and issues. However, in order to gain an audience that doesn’t think you are a crackpot, you still need to make a solid case. I’m not so sure no need to define what capacity one is making these claims from.

    If anything, I believe political journalists can learn something from how sports fans approach the games they follow. With sports there is some measure of statistical objectivity. However, even with stats there is still the matter of how you deploy them. Over at Hoopus we like to use John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating to talk about how well a given baller is playing. I’m not going to claim it’s a perfect stat, but as an editorial decision it gives us and our readers a measuring stick as to how they know we approach any given player and team (we use other ones as well). Moving this over to politics, I’ve always wondered why news editors don’t approach certain issues with a clear set of guidelines as to where they are coming from with any given issue. What is the legal or legislative framework our reporting is going to be based on? What are the goals of each side and how will victory be measured? What constitutes bad form? Speaking for myself, I often find myself turning the dial or channel because most political reporting these days consists of little more than Group A says this and Group B says that. The other day I heard an interview with Tom Hauser about the recount and he literally did nothing more than relay the following “Norm Coleman says…. and Al Franken says…” Fantastic. Even more insulting is that the only time there seems to be some sort of attempt to make sense of it all comes in the form of a gimmick like “Fact Zone” or “Reality Check.”

    As far as picking which issues get talked about, I get to pick the issues over at Hoopus because I’m one of the 2 editor/writers over there. If people like it, they continue to read. If they don’t, we see our readership go down. I don’t think this is different than what you (Bob) did over at Polinaut or on your new blog.

    I chose Prop 8 and Madsen because a) it is an issue not a candidate (McHale supported Romney earlier and Fred Hoiberg is a well known DFL supporter) and b) because we haven’t had any Wolves player step out like this since we started the blog and we were looking for something to ask our readers not what they thought about Prop 8, but what they thought about players and politics. Is there a line to be drawn? If so, where is that line?

  12. Submitted by John Smith on 11/15/2008 - 12:05 am.

    Prop 8 is one of those issues that is widely misunderstood. The intention of Prop 8 was not to discriminate or take away rights.

    It was about defining the term “Marriage” as between a Man and a Woman. The term “Civil Union” defines same sex unions. Under California Law, Civil Unions have the same rights as Marriages.

    By donating to Prop 8, Mark Madsen is not trying to imply that Gays should not have the same rights as Heterosexuals, but is simply saying that their unions should be called something else.

    I am including a quote from Elton John.

    NEW YORK — Elton John, accompanied by his longtime partner, David Furnish, had some choice words about California’s Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage that passed on Nov. 4, 2008.

    In December 2005, John and Furnish tied the knot in a civil partnership ceremony in Windsor, England. But, clarified the singer, “We’re not married. Let’s get that right. We have a civil partnership. What is wrong with Proposition 8 is that they went for marriage. Marriage is going to put a lot of people off, the word marriage.”

    “I don’t want to be married. I’m very happy with a civil partnership. If gay people want to get married, or get together, they should have a civil partnership,” John says. “The word ‘marriage,’ I think, puts a lot of people off.

    “You get the same equal rights that we do when we have a civil partnership. Heterosexual people get married. We can have civil partnerships.”

    What would happen if another basketball team decided they wanted the name Timberwolves? There would be an outcry? Again Prop 8 is not about Hate or the deny of rights but over what terms apply to what union. Hopefully we can resolve this in a win-win situation.

  13. Submitted by Nate Arch on 11/15/2008 - 08:56 am.

    So all that money and time was thrown out there for a case of semantics? Sorry, it’s more than that.

  14. Submitted by Jeremy Brezovan on 11/15/2008 - 09:46 am.

    With all due respect to Elton John and his partner, it seems to me that whether they have a legally binding partnership or not is kind of irrelevant when it comes to things like health care, hospital visitation, even adoption if they ever chose that, and for one reason: he’s Elton John. Are you going to try and tell me he needs to have that kind of legal recognition to have his way? Seriously, I want to meet the nurse that would bar him from visiting David in the hospital. In that situation I sincerely doubt she would have a job for long after the confrontation! Unfortunately, we do not all have Elton John’s money or influence, and so look to the law to affirm our rights.

    Whatever the “good” intent of Proposition 8 was, its effects are clear and were just as clear before Election Day: they strip gay people in California of equal rights that had already been granted to them. It’s a shameful step backward.

    I do think Mark Madsen should have to answer for his donation. Let him explain to the protestors that will be downtown this afternoon that he doesn’t think they deserve equal rights under the law, that “protection” of an institution that heterosexual people have already done a good job of disparaging is more than gay people deserve, that children shouldn’t have to contemplate a family of two mothers, or two fathers. (Make sure he’s standing by some gay couples’ kids when he explains that last one.)

  15. Submitted by Daniel Stoddard on 11/15/2008 - 05:24 pm.

    First and foremost, I have met Mark Madsen, and he is an awesome guy. Of my friends who know him, they feel the same way. I agree with Post #12, but #14 doesn’t have it correct at all. “strip rights, etc”. WHAT RIGHTS?

    The problem with prop 8, is those against it are making it out to be something it isn’t, just like the supporters on prop 8 (and I am one, being LDS and in so cal) bent the “truth” with their advertisements.
    But here are FACTS.
    All I hear is “rights this” and “rights that”.
    Yet everytime I ask someone from the “no on 8” side to tell me what rights they are really losing they become speechless. The only change is the name of a ceremony. My friend at work loves to make fun of my religion all the time, as most people who aren’t mormon do to mormons they make fun of my church’s history with polygamy. Which hasn’t been around in our religion for over 100 years. He told me “how can society tell you that you can only have 1 wife”. Just like society told gays same sex marriages are NOT marriage.

    There are civil unions/domestic partnetships. If you want a “marriage ceremony” then have one and call it marriage and no one will know the difference.

    How long does it take to get a divorce? 6 months… how long does it take to disolve a civil union…. 6 months..

    What the yes on 8 campain wants is for those with “different” lifestyles to remain known as “different” and not to be known or taught as acceptable. It isn’t to strip rights. It is a MORAL issue. Whatever you show or tell me, 2 people of the same sex being “together” will never be acceptable to me. I’ll tolerate it, but it will never change, and I’ll tell you right now I doubt you could change Madsen’s point of view either with a “sitdown” with a gay couple and their kids.

    This issue needs to be solved federaly, and if it doesn’t, I think those for gay marriage can easily get it passed by adding additional language to a new bill that would satisfy the religious side. Such as stating gay marriage isn’t to be taught in schools, etc etc, which might get them a huge swing in support from some of those who voted yes on 8.

  16. Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 11/15/2008 - 10:33 pm.

    I’m a strong believer in secret ballots, but financial contributions are public things and must be. Nobody has the right to consider his financial support of Proposition 8 or any other initiative or candidate to be a private matter. This is especially true of the contributor in question is a celebrity of any kind, including an athlete.

    People who supported Proposition 8 aren’t necessarily bad, but they are afraid, and whether they know it or not, their fear does real harm. We’re not doing a favor to homophobes by ignoring or pretending to approve of their bigotry. I believe reason will someday overcome fear, and even good Mormons will regret their former intolerance of decent people who merely love differently. Until then, we deserve to know the truth about where the support for Proposition 8 came from, so that we can hold its supporters accountable and perhaps help them to see the error of their ways.

  17. Submitted by tom moore on 11/15/2008 - 11:37 pm.

    Madsen is a public person who made a very public act by contributing such a large sum of money to support Prop 8.

    Prop 8 is discriminaotry – talk all the semantics you want, but it was aimed at taking away rights from homosexual citizens that heterosexual citizens will still enjoy (and “traditional” marriage also includes the banning of divorce, the banning of re-marriage of those who divorce, the right of a husband to hit and/or rape his spouse, the banning of mix-raced marriages, etc – so, “defending” traditional marriage is not what this was all about, at least, based on what traditional marriage includes, I hope not).

    Supporters, like Madsen, may or may not be well-intentioned or informed/mis-informed, etc, but they are supporting discrimination. And people are justified in pointing this out to him whether it’s in Target Center or anywhere else.

  18. Submitted by Jeremy Brezovan on 11/16/2008 - 08:33 am.

    #16, if you haven’t heard about any of the rights that are denied GLBT couples under the law, you haven’t been listening.

    If you’re interested in fixing that, one of the best places to start is The site offers a very specific list of how gay couples are affected under Minnesota law, if not CA or federal law.

    My partner and I have to jump through an awful lot of legal hoops to get anything close to the kinds of rights and protections that are automatically afforded to straight couples who get married. We have a domestic partnership certificate from the city of Minneapolis, but the only thing it really does is give us an easier way to be included in each other’s employer-offered health care plans. (I believe it is also supposed to give us visitation rights in the hospital should one of us fall ill, but we’ve never had to test that one, thankfully, and I fear that outside of the metro area it would probably be ignored regardless.) That is far from being “the same” as a marriage and I am shocked that you seem unable to see the distinction.

    And please, stop confusing the religious ceremony called marriage (which churches should be free to withhold from whomever they please) with the legal contract of a marriage and its inherent rights. You and the members of whatever church you belong to can believe in whatever “morals” you like, but no, it should NOT be codified in law that the rest of us have to follow, and the laws that are in place now WILL be struck down in time as society comes to recognize the very real harm they do. There are a lot of very religious people who do not share your point of view, many of whom spoke in favor of our rights in protests across the country yesterday.

  19. Submitted by Joel Rosenberg on 11/16/2008 - 09:37 am.

    Of course it’s news. He’s a public figure, who made a public contribution. I do think, though, that those who would criticize him for it might consider that there are/were other reasons to support Prop 8 in addition to hatred for gays and a desire to delegitimize same sex marriages.

    (I’m not going to argue the latter strongly, as I wish it had been defeated. As a matter of public policy, I think SSM is a good thing. But at least many people who disagree are not flaming bigots, but, IMHO and all, just wrong.)

  20. Submitted by Cory Stockwell on 11/17/2008 - 04:01 am.

    Thanks to Jeremy B. for his excellent comments on this issue, which have contributed to my understanding. It seems pretty clear to me that what’s at stake here is the concept of marriage. Daniel S. (16) says as much when he asks why gays and lesbians don’t just accept another word or name. But it’s not simply about enjoying the same privileges as everyone else under the law (though as we’ve seen, a civil union doesn’t provide anywhere near the same rights as a marriage). To my mind, what is at stake is whether people are to be included in or excluded from an institution that has been around for – centuries? millennia? – and is part of the very fabric from which society is woven. We grow up thinking about marriage; whether we like it or hate it, we know that it’s there, an open institution into which any two people who are in love can enter. So to tell a particular group of people that they can never get married, to exclude them from this institution, is basically to tell them that they’re not full-fledged members of society – in other words, it’s to stigmatize them.

    I’m sure Madsen’s a great guy, but that’s really not the issue here. Whether he realizes it or not, I think he’s contributing to a pretty ugly form of exclusion. I for one hope he has a change of heart.

  21. Submitted by Craig Westover on 11/17/2008 - 10:27 am.

    David —

    Madsen aside, the larger issue is same-sex marriage.

    Like you, I support same-sex marriage – based on conservative principles not liberal values; your characterization of Prop 8 as “Proposition Hate” and your reason for supporting same-sex marriage (“fundamental fairness”) are dangerous positions.

    First, civil marriage is not a fundamental right; it is a creation of the state, and the state has every legitimate authority to determine who may take advantage of civil marriage (Virginia v. Loving notwithstanding for constitutional reasons). The state has the legislative authority to pass laws enforcing its definition of marriage.

    Why Poposition 8 and the DOMA Amendment in Minnesota are wrong is that constitutional amendments that legislate take the decision about marriage out of the hands of the people through their elected representatives and enforce a snapshot opinion into a process that is difficult to change. Much like the Heritage sales tax, the definition of marriage legislation has no business in the Constitution — state or national. It should remain a law as long as the legislature, responsive to the people, says that it should.

    Proposition 8 is not about hate anymore than the radical reaction to it is about destroying marriage. Prop 8 supporters have a real fear — there is a vocal segment of the gay and lesbian community that would use same-sex marriage to chip away at the traditional family and religious tenets – just as there are hate groups that would use Prop 8 to actively discriminate against gays and lesbians. Prop 8 is a reaction to fear of those groups – supported by the progressive idea of “fundamental fairness.”

    What conservative Prop 8 supporters forget is that conservatism is about individuals, not aggregate groups. Just because the National Organization of Women says some pretty outlandish things, doesn’t mean all women support them; just because gay and lesbian activist groups (more from a leftist political slant than anything to do with sexual orientation) take active anti-family positions doesn’t mean all same-sex couples seeking to marry support their views. Conservatives ought to be more concerned about the latter than the former.

    Why conservatives want to marginalize individuals who want to form a committed relationship, raise a family, join the Boy Scouts and support the military is quite beyond me. If conservatives are not going to take children away from same-sex couples (which if same-sex parents were really bad for kids would be the only moral thing to do) then doesn’t it make sense that those children would be better off in a home where the parents were legally committed to each other? Don’t we send a better message to young people when we expect gays and lesbians to form committed relationships (the same expectation we straight people have for our children) instead of marginalizing them outside of the norm?

    The reason why people in general and conservatives in particular should SUPPORT same sex marriage is that it is simply a good idea. If marriage is a stabilizing factor for heterosexual relationships, it most certainly would be a stabilizing factor in same-sex relationships where marginalization doesn’t discourage promiscuity.

    There are real issues here, David, beyond whether or not a mediocre roundballer contributes to a political issue. There are governing principles at stake that don’t include the slippery slope “fundamental fairness” argument. I honestly don’t know whose views are more dangerous – Madsen’s or yours.

  22. Submitted by Nate Arch on 11/17/2008 - 04:33 pm.

    In a post entitled “Should it matter that Mark Madsen donated to Prop Hate?” did Mr. Westover really just drop a “Madsen aside” at the beginning of his unsolicted lesson on theoretical conservatism?

  23. Submitted by Herbert Davis on 11/18/2008 - 07:48 am.

    Why should we care if he is a nice guy or a religious civil rights kook? Can he get the ball?

    He’s a basketball player, not a candidate for public office.

    In the 6th CD his kookiness is an attribute!

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