Respect David Tyree's convictions

Known primarily for making an unforgettable catch, David Tyree lately has been speaking some pretty unforgettable words.

Tyree, whose catch in Super Bowl XLII is among the most amazing plays in NFL postseason history, has drawn widespread criticism for his strong opposition to gay marriage. The issue is a hot topic in New York, where the state legislature is currently considering whether to make New York the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage.

In a recent video for the National Organization for Marriage, Tyree said passage of a gay marriage bill would lead to "anarchy." He followed that up by telling the New York Daily News on Monday that he would trade his iconic catch and the Super Bowl victory over the Patriots for a ban on gay marriage.

If you're expecting Tyree to recant anything he said, prepare to be disappointed. When ESPN.com reached him Monday night, Tyree wasn't backing down.

"As great as a catch as that was, that doesn't define me as a person," Tyree told me.

Tyree's comments have, predictably, generated two reactions: disdain and ridicule.

I'm going to try a different reaction: acceptance.

Don't get me wrong; Tyree's use of the word "anarchy" unnerves me. The riot in Vancouver that followed the Boston Bruins' Stanley Cup clincher was anarchy. The riots after the Rodney King verdict -- that was anarchy.

People trying to get married? That doesn't exactly compare to looting, widespread assaults, burning buildings and destroying entire communities.

Although Tyree explained Monday that he didn't mean the word "anarchy" literally -- "I'm really talking about the moral fabric of our country," he said -- his controversial comments are an interesting litmus test.

It's easy to applaud an athlete who supports, say, voter registration, or raises money for cancer or other causes considered safe and politically correct.

But it isn't so easy to be on board when an athlete voices opinions on emotional issues such as abortion, race or same-sex marriage. Those are topics that could, with a few words, change the perception of who an athlete is -- which seems to be happening with Tyree.

I'm not here to defend or dismiss Tyree's opinions. But it's worth pointing out that if you're truly a proponent of free speech and have no issue with athletes using their influence to try to effect social and political issues, that means accepting it when athletes champion a side that makes us uncomfortable, too.

The Phoenix Suns' Steve Nash, New York Ranger Sean Avery and Tyree's former teammate on the New York Giants, Michael Strahan, appeared in campaigns supporting same-sex marriage in New York. Tyree has every right to stand with others who have the opposite opinion.

Besides, Tyree, a devout Christian, is certainly not alone in his beliefs. Though The New York Times reported recently that his views might be "evolving," President Barack Obama, who will visit New York this week, is on record as supporting civil unions for gay couples but not same-sex marriage, citing his religious beliefs.

But this isn't really about how we individually feel about same-sex marriage. It also isn't about promoting bigotry, intolerance and disrespect. This is about understanding that speaking out isn't reserved strictly for those with whom we agree.

"You should read some of the nasty tweets I received," Tyree said. "I don't hear a lot of people talking about our First Amendment rights, but how we're bigots."

In fairness, Tyree said he supports laws that would extend benefits to gay couples, and he has no issues with any of the athletes who have taken a pro-gay marriage position.

"It's not a big deal," said Tyree, who pointed out he feels just as strongly about divorce and adultery. "I still love them, and hopefully they don't look at me like I'm attacking them. You don't always have to agree with someone to love them."

Since Tyree doesn't support gay marriage, does it automatically mean he's homophobic?

If you're against abortion, does that mean you don't respect women?

If you're against affirmative action, are you a racist?

Does "pro" always mean the opposite of "anti"?

We should know by now that it isn't that simple.

I didn't lose any respect for Tim Tebow because he appeared in a pro-life ad that aired during this year's Super Bowl. In fact, I gained respect for him. I know a lot of athletes who invoke Jesus to enhance their image, but behind closed doors, they party and sleep around worse than Don Draper from "Mad Men."

Tyree is being depicted as an uninformed religious zealot, but at least he's up-front. He helped deliver thousands of petitions against the same-sex marriage bill and joined the National Organization for Marriage at a recent news conference in Albany.

That doesn't sound like someone who is crazy. Rather, it sounds like someone who isn't going to back down from what he believes.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.