Michael Irvin is, without a doubt, an acquired taste.
For starters, his attire often looks like Craig Sager and GQ teamed to select his daily ensemble. How many males so confidently do fur? And that underlies a brashness and ego that tend to ruffle conventional types, especially when he dares to give a strong opinion. Add in his women troubles, his drug troubles, his overall drama level, and it is easy to see why not everybody likes him.
Of course, this is why I do.
And every single dealing I have had with The Playmaker backs up this opinion. He is not fake like Deion, not polished like Troy, just genuine and real and always himself, flaws and all.
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His latest move, though, is what I admire most about Irvin. He is not, and has never been, afraid -- not afraid to go over the middle, not afraid to call out a teammate, not afraid to be himself and now not afraid to take a stand for civil rights.
Michael Irvin has recently said he supports gay marriage, would support a gay teammate and had a gay brother. He is, you might say, a friend of the gays, which is not typically popular in most of his core groups -- athletes, African-Americans and anybody hoping to endorse anything.
And he announced this provocatively clad in pads, with his six-pack abs showing like is usually seen by whatever female flavor of the month is featured in Maxim.
Because Irvin is a guy this is a bigger deal.
Because the magazine is Out it is a gigantic deal.
Out is self-described as "The World's Leading Gay Fashion and Lifestyle" magazine, and in the accompanying article, Irvin talks openly and honestly about an issue that usually attaches a don't-ask-don't-tell tag to it because talking about it makes us uncomfortable.
And no he does not need to shut up.
He does not need to zip and shut any more than Tim Tebow does about his pro-life beliefs or Tommy Tuberville about his birther beliefs or Michael Young about his thoughts on that Arizona immigration law. All are entitled, all welcome.
Have we all become so invested in our membership in The Church of I'm Right, They're Wrong that we can no longer afford First Amendment rights to those with differing opinions? Because it seems to me we convince ourselves it is OK to be political when we agree with what is being said.
Tebow has a right; Young doesn't.
Irvin has a right; Tuberville doesn't.
Right and left, both sides only believe freedom of speech belongs to those who share their particular red-or-blue bias. And certainly not to athletes.
There used to be a time when athletes and athletics were at the forefront of civil rights issues, when they stood up and weighed in and actually had opinions formed by reading and talking to people besides their agents and using their platform as a springboard to provoke discussion if not actual change.
There is too much money to be made in endorsements from Nike and Gatorade to risk even mentioning hot-button topics. Not me. I prefer my athletes with a tinge of real, willing to take on controversial issues even if I disagree with said opinion.*
And Mike, in typical Mike fashion, dived into a doozy with gay marriage.
In an age where our debt has reached crushing and embarrassing levels and American schools fail to produce students able to compete globally, we have stepped down, seemingly eternally, to debate gay marriage.
Like this even cracks a 25-most-pressing-problems list.
A survey recently showed young people favor gay marriage. The number was so striking it led Focus on the Family's chief executive and president to say "we probably lost that" about evangelicals' battle against it. He also noted the fight probably was lost when kids tuned out their divorced parents who were preaching the gospel of the sanctity of marriage.
Kids do not listen to what we say. They listen to what we do.
If it feels like I am having trouble just flat out stating my opinion that I believe gay marriage should be allowed, it is because I am.
I know the avalanche of e-mails coming, telling me how I am not conservative as I claim I am, or how I have lost the right to call myself a Republican -- which was an actual e-mail after my Michael Young column.
And this is why I admire Michael Irvin.
And Michael Young.
And Tim Tebow.
And Tommy Tuberville.
It is not easy in this society to go against what everybody says is right.
It is not easy to have any opinion at all, because somebody is likely to get their tighty-whities in a wad and that is why Irvin's willingness is so powerful, agree with him or not.
He explained himself eloquently, without talking points. He does not insist you agree, only listen.
And if your only argument is to tell him to shut up, it is probably a good sign that you need to listen more.
* -- I have to out myself. I totally Tweeted that Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall needed to shut his month a couple of months ago when he offered up his 9-11 opinion that "I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style." I stand by that Tweet. It is one thing to stand up for your beliefs and quite another to trample on the graves of the thousands of Americans killed on that day and every day since trying to protect our freedom. If that makes me a hypocrite, well, I accept that proudly.
Jennifer Floyd Engel