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Posted at 05:29 PM ET, 07/25/2012

Chick-fil-A, the Greek Olympian and the sandwich problem


There’s the truck. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
Once more, with feeling.

Judge the sandwich by the sandwich.

This has been a pretty bad week for judging sandwiches on their merits. At first it was just Chick-fil-A, whose president Dan Cathy’s public remarks about his opposition to gay marriage had eaters across the nation up in arms. Now Greece has dismissed one of its triple-jumpers, Voula Papachristou, from its Olympic team after she tweeted a racially insensitive joke.

People keep doing this, and I wish they wouldn’t.

The fact of someone’s being a racist does not make her a bad triple-jumper. It might make her a bad Olympian — there are other considerations for these storied athletes than simply their ability to run or jump or swim. They are role models!

But only up to a point. You don't want to be the world’s fastest man who believes in global warming and has never said anything offensive about the Scots. That’s meaningless.

But Greece has banned her, even though she is currently its triple-jump champion, despite her numerous groveling apologies on Facebook and Twitter.

It’s the sandwich problem.

Avoid Mel Gibson films because his most recent film is about a man who speaks using a beaver hand puppet, not because of those dreadful, hate-filled rants. Watch “Fraggle Rock” because it makes you laugh, not because of the Henson company’s stance on marriage equality.

Just because people disagree with you, believe things you personally find hateful and make statements that curdle your innards, does not make them incapable of excellence. In fact, those qualities go hand in hand rather more often than one would like. Look at almost anyone who made anything beautiful ever. If the Victorians could still read Greek philosophy while intensely disapproving of the philosophers’ personal lives — and we now consider the Victorian era to be benighted and repressed — surely we can do people the same courtesy.

Judge the sandwich by the sandwich.

Judging people by anything other than what they are capable of always leads to bad places. Mores change. What society accepts is changing all the time. But art and sandwiches endure. Would you rather have the most skilled surgeon with the steadiest hands or the one who votes the way you vote?

Yes, I know it’s just a sandwich, and to many people — people who buy Tom’s Shoes and worry about sustainable toothpaste — this is a substitutable good. But still.

We are getting real life confused with politics, always a dangerous move. In politics, people seldom make much of anything. Gaffes. Pronouncements. Manufactured indignation. That’s about it. When the only thing you make is statements, you should be judged by the statements. That’s why we spend so much time going through all the remarks and half-quotes and misquotes with fine-toothed combs. But if you make anything besides remarks ...

Judge the sandwich by the sandwich.

Is this a selfish position? Yes. But it’s consistent. If you want a world where your restaurateurs have to agree with you, you are going to be missing out on a lot of excellent sandwiches. And that is not a world I'd like to live in.

But now the mayors of Boston and Chicago are leaping at the chance to score points against Chick-fil-A by denouncing the company and denying it welcome. Someone has even started a fake Facebook account to try to defend Chick-fil-A — a move that has never??? in recorded history made a public-relations crisis better. People are starting petitions to remove Chick-fil-A from campuses — because of the personal beliefs of Mr. Cathy and the kind of organizations to which he donates his money. The only reason he has enough money to bother people in the first place is that he made a chicken sandwich that everyone liked. Don’t punish the sandwich. Don’t punish the consumer.

Starbucks supports marriage equality. That’s not why I drink its coffee. I drink its coffee because I have a serious caffeine problem, and they are located on every corner.

It is possible, it turns out, to go through the political preferences and leanings of every company that makes anything you want to buy, every athlete whose prowess amazes you, every fashion designer with an eye for color. But I wish you wouldn’t. It is not a question of being an informed consumer, of trying to buy things that aren’t made in conditions you find appalling. That’s germane. If the product only costs six cents because it was made in obscene conditions, you are right not to encourage it. But this isn’t about the sandwich. It’s about what happens afterward. And that’s a slippery slope.

If you’re upset that the Chick-fil-A founder donates to causes you don’t believe in, then donate to causes you do believe in. Fight apples with apples and oranges with oranges.

Judge the sandwich by the sandwich.

By  |  05:29 PM ET, 07/25/2012

 
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