02/15/2012 02:49 pm ET Updated Apr 16, 2012

Intention vs. Impact: Roland Martin and the Gay Community

When CNN first announced Roland Martin's suspension for tweets sent during the Super Bowl that sparked criticism from the gay community, I believed the tweets to be homophobic and offensive toward gay people, but I also wanted to understand his intentions in tweeting those remarks. Intentions do not mitigate impact, but as a proponent of marrying intention and impact when communicating across differences, I felt it important to understand his intentions. Marrying intention with impact educates both the sender and receiver in the communication process and is the first step toward reaching any kind of conflict resolution.

People who are not gay easily sided with Martin and tried to explain his intentions: "I don't see anything directly meant for gays." "It was the Super Bowl, and he has a right to free speech." "That is just the way a black man talks." "He has a right to his religious beliefs. A lot of people agree with him."

Those who are gay experience the impact of the words. They believe the comments are hate speech and attribute such language as directly linked to the rising suicide of gay teens. Their research demonstrates a pattern for Martin, and they point out threads of homophobia in other remarks he's made.

Understanding that whatever the intention may have been (joking around, religious beliefs, a cultural way of speaking, etc.), the impact should be civil and respectful. Language represents our thinking. As a journalist (or in the role as a political pundit on CNN), Martin's remarks, at a minimum, should be civil and respectful, and at best, they should be an educated, thoughtful, insightful response (especially when attempting humor).

Words create worlds. To understand the impact of Martin's tweets, I asked a close, gay friend his opinion on the topic. The "world" the words (tweets) created for my friend was a world that was offensive, intolerant, and sadly unsafe. That impact will not be lessened despite a better understanding of Roland Martin's intentions. His posted apology is not seen as a true apology by many because it shifts the responsibility to the receiver for misunderstanding his message:

To those who construed my comment as being anti-gay or homophobic or advancing violence, I'm truly sorry. I can certainly understand how someone could come to a different conclusion than the one I meant. I'm disheartened that my words would embolden prejudice. While public debate over social issues is healthy, no matter which side someone takes, there is no room for debate as to whether we need to be respectful of others.

Only the sender of the communication can explain his intentions. Roland Martin, in "Final Thoughts on Super Bowl Twitter Controversy," stated he meant the comments in jest and that comments made about Beckham were in reference to soccer and not sexual orientation. Owning that his intentions, and not the receiver's misunderstanding, have caused a serious negative impact on the gay community and, by extension, all of us who work for civil rights is an important message for all of us hear. Martin wrote, "As someone who has spoken out forcefully against bigotry against African Americans and other minorities, as well as sexism against women, I fully understand how a group who has been unfairly treated would be offended by such comments, and, again, I am sorry for any offense my remarks caused."

Intentions do not mitigate impact, but explaining our intentions and apologizing do increase understanding and create a civil and respectful society. I hope that our gay community is able to accept Roland Martin's intentions as his truth. I trust that Roland Martin now realizes the impact of his tweets. Other media events will soon drown out this news item. It may already be yesterday's news in the mind of those of us who do not experience the impact of such words in our daily lives. However, it is a lesson Roland Martin will never forget. I hope we don't, either.