On Wednesday, USA Today Sports released an interview they conducted with the "first openly gay U.S. Winter Olympian," figure skater Adam Rippon.
When it came to Vice President Mike Pence leading the delegation to Pyeongchang County, South Korea, Rippon said, "You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy? ... I’m not buying it."
Speaking about the meet-and-greet that takes place prior to the games, Rippon said he would probably avoid Pence:
If it were before my event, I would absolutely not go out of my way to meet somebody who I felt has gone out of their way to not only show that they aren’t a friend of a gay person but that they think that they’re sick.
Rippon told USA Today Sports that he doesn’t believe Pence "has a real concept of reality," and that "to stand by some of the things that Donald Trump has said and for Mike Pence to say he’s a devout Christian man is completely contradictory."
If he’s okay with what’s being said about people and Americans and foreigners and about different countries that are being called "s***holes," I think he should really go to church.
He later stated that if he had the opportunity to meet Pence following the games, "there might be a possibility to have an open conversation." However, he added that "the current administration represents the values that I was taught growing up."
Although the interview isn’t set in a traditional Q&A format, it’s safe to assume, given the contextual clues, that USA Today Sports asked Rippon about Pence. Sure, Rippon could have simply refused to comment, but he chose to state his honest opinion.
After the interview was released, some on social media praised Rippon for taking a stand against Pence’s alleged "homophobia." Others criticized Rippon, calling him a "snowflake," or a "fool," saying he should be kicked off the team "for disrespecting our president." Individuals on both sides lobbed unnecessarily cruel and vulgar insults.
In response to the back-and-forth, supporters are saying that Rippon has every right to state his beliefs.
Moments like these test not only the consistency of our political ideology, but our ability to understand someone with whom we personally disagree, and use that understanding to create ideological converts.
Those praising Rippon should ask themselves the following question: Would I support the free speech and association of an Olympic athlete who refused to meet with a Democratic president? If the answer is "no," what does that say about your political and social ideology?
Those condemning Rippon should ask themselves a similar question: Would I praise an Olympic athlete who refused to meet someone like Hillary Clinton due to her ardent support for abortion? If the answer is "yes," what does that say about your political and social ideology?
Praising free speech and association only when it connects neatly to one’s personal political beliefs isn’t a coherent or healthy philosophy; it’s tribalism. Moreover, if your first instinct when someone like Adam Rippon voices an opinion with which you disagree is to be derisive or dismissive, you will never win hearts and minds.
It’s incredibly easy to toss insults or make jokes; it’s much more difficult to absorb opposing viewpoints, and engage the individuals who hold those viewpoints with tact, patience, and a desire to persuade.
Conservatives may disagree with Adam Rippon’s opinions, as well as the way in which he’s chosen to voice them, but rather than further an already gaping political and social divide with disparagement, we can and should use the opportunity to engage Rippon and his supporters with reason.