Tim McGraw and the Sandy Hook Promise Concert

Can We Disagree Without Being Disagreeable?

(Straight From Nashville is a weekly column written by CMT.com managing editor Calvin Gilbert.)

Tim McGraw probably has a better understanding these days of the old adage that “no good deed goes unpunished.”

Now that the 24/7 news cycle has finally drifted away from the headlines about his upcoming concert supporting the Sandy Hook Promise charity, maybe it’s a good time to reflect on an issue that has the potential to greatly diminish American society.

No, I’m not talking about gun control. That topic is unlikely to be totally resolved in our lifetime.

Of greater concern, perhaps, is how we’ve evolved into a nation where a significant sector of the population is unwilling to accept differing opinions and viewpoints. Whether it’s staunch conservatives or die-hard liberals, it seems like we’re encouraged to be 100 percent in agreement or 100 percent in opposition to certain concepts, ideas and, yes, people.

McGraw announced the concert in Hartford, Connecticut, to raise money for Sandy Hook Promise, an organization founded following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 first graders and six adults were killed. According to the organization’s website, its purpose is to protect children from gun violence.

Gun rights activists claim McGraw is actually raising money to further Sandy Hook Promise’s support of gun control measures, including more stringent background checks for firearms sales and acquisitions.

Again, I’m not going to get involved in the gun control fray. Like other controversial topics, including abortion and the death penalty, I can see both sides of the issues and remain naïve enough to think the logical and most effective solution probably falls somewhere in the middle.

What’s troubling about the McGraw scenario, though, is how quickly it turned into a hot-button issue in the media. Breitbart.com got plenty of online traffic for their coverage, and Bearingarms.com, a website I’ll admit I’d never visited, was quick to post a headline proclaiming “Tim McGraw Poised to ‘Dixie Chick’ Himself With Gun Control Benefit Concert.”

Why does it always have to go back to the Dixie Chicks? I remember in 2003, while the U.S. was on the verge of the war in Iraq, when Natalie Maines announced to an audience in London that the members of the trio were ashamed then-President George W. Bush was from Texas. Even before that became international news and fodder for countless editorials and commentaries, I immediately thought, “God, I hope this story goes away and doesn’t turn into the mess I think it’s going to become.”

And, of course, it did.

Part of the problem involves our concept of celebrity and everything it entails. There’s a notion that the rich and famous all have some sort of cosmic insights into the world that the rest of us lack. If they’re talented in music or acting or sports –or whatever field — does it mean they’re somehow smarter and ultimately superior to the rest of the population?

Aside from their bank accounts and lifestyles, celebrities really aren’t different from the rest of us. Some are smarter than others, but that can be said of anyone at any economic level or in any profession.

However, what we all share with celebrities is the right to express our own opinions. And that includes the opinions of Breitbart.com and individuals who anonymously made vicious comments online about McGraw because of his support of Sandy Hook Promise. Still, it points to the divisive political climate we live in.

It’s doubtful that McGraw predicted any controversy when he agreed to perform the July 17 concert. He became aware of Sandy Hook Promise after learning that his fiddle player, Dean Brown, is a friend of Mark Barden, whose 7-year-old son was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting.

“When you sit across from a family who’ve gone through such a great tragedy, it’s just heartbreaking,” McGraw told ABC News. “And when you sit and have a conversation and you feel connected and they want you to help, and you feel like you can help, then you lead with your heart. … When you talk about protecting our kids from violence and doing everything you can to protect our children, I’m all in.”

McGraw isn’t even advocating that we all turn over our guns to the government.

“Let me be clear regarding the concert for Sandy Hook, given much of the erroneous reporting thus far,” he said in a statement to the Washington Post. “As a gun owner, I support gun ownership. I also believe that with gun ownership comes the responsibility of education and safety — most certainly when it relates to what we value most, our children. I can’t imagine anyone who disagrees with that.”

Despite any Dixie Chicks analogies that have been made, McGraw’s career will survive all of this. If he loses any fans, he’ll likely pick up some new ones who might want to explore his music after discovering him through the news stories.

Once the controversy about the Connecticut concert began, some suggested he should have canceled the show. While McGraw has gotten hammered by conservatives criticizing what they perceive as his liberal agenda, Billy Currington — who’s featured on McGraw’s current tour — decided to cancel his appearance at the Sandy Hook Promise concert.

“I’ve never been one to take on controversial issues — I’m a singer,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “I do feel strongly about honoring and supporting the Sandy Hook community and will be making a donation to a local organization.”

And guess what? I’ve heard several liberal-leaning friends in Nashville criticize Currington for caving in to those who have a blanket opposition to gun control.

It’s sort of like that other old adage: “Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.”

Let’s hope sanity and open minds prevail. Damned if that won’t be blessing so many of us have been praying for.

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.