Charles Tillman said that if his wife goes into labor Sunday, he won't play in the Chicago Bears game against Houston. You know what that makes him? Good. Very, very good. I'd give the idea one Facebook-like right now. Thumbs up.
Mike Florio, of NBC and Pro Football Talk wouldn't. He said that football players should plan their "nine-month family expansion activities'' so that potential childbirth doesn't conflict with the football season. Florio said Tillman chose this profession and owes loyalty to his teammates by showing up for work at the games.
Well, then, I guess that makes Tillman bad. Very, very bad.
The story that played out about Tillman the past few days has been so typical. It is reflective of our tendency to over-simplify by creating an argument as fast as humanly possible.
First off, if Tillman blows off the Bears game Sunday night, then he will be doing the right thing. We've done enough damage in this society with the mentality that sports come first. If Tillman wants to put his family first, then good for him.
But this isn't about that. It's about the connection between the demands of modern-media reaction-time and the problem of hyper-polarization. We saw it throughout the election, the build-up to it, the media coverage of it. It's about MSNBC's Chris Matthews saying "I'm so glad we had that storm last week,'' referring to Hurricane Sandy, and how it might have helped President Obama win re-election.
Matthews would later apologize for one of the dumbest things ever said.
And Florio walked back from his original comments on Chicago sportstalk radio, WSCR, where the discussion started, by writing that Tillman's decision would be a personal one. Florio wrote that he figured it out, "Now that I've had a chance to consider the situation more carefully.''
A chance? Those words really stuck out for me, maybe more than any of the other absurd things Florio said. He apparently felt he had to spit out an opinion before thinking it through carefully.
It's irresponsible of him. It's also what the media business now demands. Frankly, it is what our public discourse is boiling down to way too often.
Florio was like a yapping poodle, barking out words that he hadn't thought through. He isn't alone. In some ways, it's not even his fault.
At least not entirely. He just had no time to think, but had to talk.
So he said something dumb. Who wouldn't? And he either felt bad about it later, or was told to.
He's an example. I've been an example, too.
But this is what happens: News breaks. People look to the web to see what's going on. The pressure is on the media to respond quickly. The hits and web-clicks and retweets are there, just waiting.
No time for subtlety or nuance, gray areas or middle grounds. So the immediacy leads to extremes. An opinion comes out pushed over to one side, and that leads to corrective responses, pushed way over to the other side.
Too much thinking goes that way now, and not just in the media. Rush to get on Facebook or Twitter, then move on.
It leads to false debates, played out in extremes when reality almost always rests somewhere in the middle, which goes untouched.
That's my theory, anyway. I can't say for sure. It's possible that the media aren't creating the polarization, but only reflecting it, playing off of it. At the very least, though, they are feeding it.
I know that when I write something nice about Serena Williams the email box is filled with comments about political correctness. When I write something negative about her? I'm called a racist by hundreds of people. Sometimes, it's politically correct and racist all at the same time.
It's all done so simply, without thought to the actual argument.
It's about quick-hit reactions, even from readers. That's what we do now. Everything is good or bad, ugly or pretty, black or white. You can't have positive and negative thoughts about the same thing. Good people can't do bad things.
Florio turned Tillman into a false argument, and he probably even knows that by now, having had time to think. It didn't work for him.
Tillman should be applauded for putting family first. He already had a daughter born with heart disease that would require a transplant. If he thought the Texans-Bears game were more important than this birth, then something would be wrong with him.
"At the end of the day (family is) all that you have,'' Tillman said. "This game is important to me, but after what we went through ... (football) will always be second or third in my life. That was a great lesson learned, to teach me that family -- when I'm done playing football -- my family will always be there for me.''
How much time have we spent tearing into athletes for irresponsibility to their families, for not taking care of their kids? Tillman has had time to think this through.
To be honest, Florio's second shot at the topic, when he wrote that he was wrong, was still a little odd. He wrote that a player has to make his own decision, balancing factors such as the health of the mother, the health of the baby, the value of the player to the team, the importance of the game and the money being sacrificed by not being available for all the games.
No. This isn't a mathematical equation. It's a matter of heart and family. It's about being there for the mother and for the baby and even for himself. You don't get many chances at this.
It's funny because just three nights ago, I was telling one of my kids about his birth day. He rolled his eyes and said he'd heard it a million times.
He's going to hear it a million more.