Even the Conservative Lobbyist Hyping a Ban on Gay NFL Players Admits It's a PR Stunt

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Feb. 24 2014 10:20 PM

Even the Conservative Lobbyist Hyping a Ban on Gay NFL Players Admits It's a PR Stunt

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Former Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam runs the 40-yard dash during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 24, 2014 in Indianapolis

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

A conservative lobbyist of debatable repute grabbed a few D.C.-centric headlines on Monday when he announced that he was preparing legislation that would ban gay athletes from joining the National Football League. The Hill was the first to give Jack Burkman the attention he was looking for, but his homophobic PR stunt also gained varying degrees of traction in the national media and among local outlets (the latter of which were largely less skeptical of Burkman's motives).

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

The Wire's Philip Bump and the Daily Beast's Ben Jacobs have already done a great job debunking the legitimacy of the proposal, but I'll offer up a three-part PSA nonetheless: 1) A lobbyist can't actually introduce legislation in Congress; 2) even if they could, this one would have no chance at becoming law; and 3) even if it did, its constitutionality would likely face a serious legal challenge in the courts.

Just to give you a taste of the logic Burkman is working with, here's the pull-quote he offered up in his original statement to The Hill:

”We are losing our decency as a nation," Burkman said in a statement. "Imagine your son being forced to shower with a gay man. That’s a horrifying prospect for every mom in the country. What in the world has this nation come to?"
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And in the interview with the HuffPo, which spotted the "unmistakable whiff of a publicity stunt" that surrounded the announcement:

And what about the obvious historical parallel to the era when Major League Baseball prohibited black ballplayers from taking the field? "That is a completely different thing, a different issue. Race, skin color, have nothing to do with it," Burkman said. "This is not about bigotry. It is about common decency and civility. Society is moving to a point where we are going to have unisex bathrooms and the next generation thinks that is OK."

Burkman claims his effort—which he said is in response to Missouri standout Michael Sam's pre-NFL Draft announcement that he is gay—has already piqued the interest of five House Republicans and at least one conservative senator. Those numbers, he told the Huffington Post, would rise to 36 House members and five senators within three weeks—a rather dubious claim given he's so far refused to offer up even the language of the bill let alone a list of potential supporters.

Lending the smallest shred of credibility to Burkman's claims that he has the ear of at least a small handful of GOP lawmakers, however, it the fact that his lobbying firm, JM Burkman & Associates, managed to sign more new clients last year (70 in total) than any other K Street firm, according to a recent review by The Hill. But that fact tells only part of the story. Fortunately for us, Philip Bump wryly tells the rest:

In fact, the firm did less than $2 million in business in this Congress, through the first three quarters of 2013. And Burkman isn't just a lobbyist. He's also a heavy-hitter with 21 followers on Twitter, a "radio show" that appears to be nothing more than a podcast, and a pronounced issue with gay people. Here, from last February, Burkman criticizes the establishment media for forcing the Boy Scouts to accept gay people: "Ladies and gentlemen, if you have a son, if you have a son in the Boy Scouts, get him out now." As of writing, the Boy Scouts of America has not collapsed in a moral panic.

Even Burkman himself admitted that his proposal is largely a publicity stunt. "So far, of all the discussions that we’ve had, the legal end has been the last," he told the Daily Beast late Monday, adding that the focus had so far been on "substance" and "PR." But he also suggests that the PR is not just for his benefit but also potentially for any conservative lawmakers looking to prove just how conservative they are back home. Of all the several dozen lawmakers he claims are interested in co-sponsoring the bill, he said, "all but one will do this politically because they have been under fire from Tea Party and far right wing element."

In case there was any doubt, Washington is not the new Brooklyn.

***Follow @JoshVoorhees and the rest of the @slatest team on Twitter.***

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