We are overflowing with benefit of the doubt for talented men who entertain us, amuse us, lead us. And I am fed up with it.
Take Johnny Manziel, former Texas A&M superstar quarterback, most recently but no longer of the Cleveland Browns, for example. Despite a string of behavioral problems, some of which involve public incidents of violence, and an off-the-field attitude best described as “shitty,” some people love the guy. Manziel is so beloved for his skill that he has literally applied to trademark his nickname, “Johnny Football.”
When Manziel shoved a grad assistant at A&M in off-season training back in 2013, the Houston Chronicle described the assault as “competitive fire.” Even now, after his recent indictment for the assault of his ex-girlfriend, during which he allegedly threatened to kill the both of them, Manziel has his supporters.
One of the people standing behind Manziel is former Texas Governor Rick Perry. The Republican told CNBC on Wednesday that Manziel is a “really fine young man who’s got some great problems.”
And indeed, Manziel does have some problems, serious ones to do with substance abuse and mental health, ones that have his parents worried for his safety. But so too we should be worried for the safety of the women he dates, one of which he has already allegedly threatened to kill.
Let’s keep that in mind when we unpack who a “really fine young man,” might be. Is a really fine young man one who has to be repeatedly disciplined and reined in by his administrators and coaches for his lackadaisical and entitled approach to his sport? Is a really fine young man one who gets jettisoned by an agent who hasn’t dropped a client in a near-30-year career, and who gets booted from his gazillion-dollar Nike endorsement? Is a really fine young man one who believes he’s above getting a parking ticket?
Even without Manziel’s multiple arrests, the guy doesn’t sound like a “really fine young man” to me. He sounds like an asshole.
Just as Rick Perry was calling Johnny Manziel a “really fine young man” on Wednesday, Dennis Hastert, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, was being sentenced to prison, as the judge put it, as a “serial child molester.” Hastert has admitted to abusing teenage boys. He pleaded guilty to charges of financial impropriety involving a settlement to one of his victims.
In court documents filed in Hastert’s defense, former Texas GOP congressman and ex-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay wrote that the admitted child abuser had “never disappointed [DeLay] in any way.” He went on:
“[Hastert] is a man of strong faith that guides him. He is a man of great integrity. He loves and respects his fellow man. I have never witnessed a time when he was unkind to anyone. He is always giving to others and helping anyone including me so many times.”
Hastert admittedly sexually abused boys over whom, as a coach, he was in a position of power. It’s. Not. Up. For. Debate. Again, DeLay: “I have never witnessed a time when he was unkind to anyone.”
Welp, Tom, that just doesn’t fucking matter.
Probably Dennis Hastert was kind to Tom DeLay, a colleague whose support he needed to succeed on Capitol Hill. Hastert obviously didn’t feel the same about the teenage boys he sexually abused, but then again, sexual abuse victims aren’t historically key players in making or breaking Republican political careers.
Rick Perry doesn’t need the support of domestic abuse survivors, but he’s probably got a real stake in keeping the Texas A&M good old boys’ club intact — who knows when he might need to scare up funds for another failed presidential run?
We see, with Perry and Manziel and DeLay and Hastert, whose experience matters, whose stories are to be believed and valued, and it isn’t survivors of domestic violence or child sexual abuse. That alone — the discounting of harm to our children and our families — is odious. But when considered in light of the smarmy patriarchal pandering of a Republican Party afroth over keeping “our” daughters safe in public restrooms, it goes beyond bad, beyond hypocritical.
“Safety” is the right-wing ruse for passing anti-trans laws and ordinances, never mind the truth: trans people using public restrooms don’t pose a threat to others, either children or adults, and PolitiFact has found that there are no instances of bathroom predators of any gender identity using nondiscrimination laws to sidestep prosecution.
We saw all this play out in Houston last fall, with the defeat of the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, HERO, which would have protected everyone from veterans to pregnant women to religious folks to people of color from being discriminated against in housing and public accommodations.
HERO failed, in part, because anti-trans fearmongering drove voters to shoot down the ordinance. And yet on the very day that Houstonians voted down HERO, news broke that a man — a cisgender man — sexually assaulted a 12-year-old girl in a Houston CVS bathroom. At the time, the local detective investigating the assault said that the child victim was “not necessarily all that unwilling, but at the age of 12 it doesn’t matter.”
Let’s go over that again: 12-year-old children cannot legally consent to sex in the state of Texas. This child’s age alone precludes her from being a “willing” participant in sexual activity with an adult man. All that cop had to say was that the question of whether an assault on a child occurred was moot because of her age. And yet he went for that dig, talking about the girl as if she were some kind of conniving underage Jezebel luring helpless men into drugstore bathrooms.
A 12-year-old rape survivor is “not necessarily all that unwilling,” meanwhile a football player with multiple arrests, accused of domestic abuse, is a “really fine young man” and a leading Republican politician and admitted child molester is a “man of great integrity.”
If we’re passing laws and ordinances based on a need to protect children from predators, I count here two examples of cisgender men preying on children. That’s two more examples than the grand total of zero that we have for trans folks committing assaults in public restrooms.
And if you really want to get your skin crawling, check out what Texas GOP Congressman Louie Gohmert said in a recent radio interview about the need for anti-trans bathroom laws: that as a teenager, he himself would have taken advantage of transgender protections, and pretended to be a transgender woman, in order to sneak into the girls’ restroom at school.
If our concern-trolling GOP leaders are banning people from public restrooms in the name of safety, maybe they should start with Louie Gohmert. Or Dennis Hastert. Or, I don’t know, Jerry Sandusky, or any number of Catholic priests. And if they’re concerned about protecting women, as Rick Perry claims to be in his very own political platform, why is he calling Johnny Manziel a “really fine young man”?
If the Republican Party wants to put bigotry into law, they’re obviously empowered to do so, but to do it in the name of protecting children is pure farce.
Defending a man who has admittedly abused teenage boys, as Tom DeLay did, doesn’t scream “concern for safety” to me. And Rick Perry needs to not go out of his way to defend the character of a football player who’s been indicted on domestic violence charges if he wants his cohort to be seen as a passionate advocate for the vulnerable.
I don’t see these Republicans as protectors. I see them as creeps willing to excuse violence and abuse when it’s perpetrated by men who look and sound like them, meanwhile entirely fabricating the trans bathroom threat.
It’s a smart, and horrifying, sleight of hand meant to distract us from the real danger: politicians who operate out of wholesale self-interest, at the expense of those who they want us to believe they care about most.