Collins: Offensive Tweets Shouldn’t Be Normallized
Tears had already begun to well up over his blue eyes as Trea Turner strode toward the microphone. As he sat behind it, he took a deep breath, exhaled nervously and never quite got his voice through a sentence without it quivering.
He was sorry, he said. They always say that. And hey, he seemed to be sorry. Seemed to be regretful. Seemed to be shamed. Seemed to be thoroughly disgusted with himself.
“I want to apologize to everybody who was affected by things that I said,” the Washington Nationals’ immensely gifted young shortstop said Tuesday. “LGBT community. African-American community. Special-needs community. I’m truly sorry for what I said. I want to take full responsibility for that.”
Know what? Good.
Here’s a message we should all hope kids take from this: Turner should feel sorry and regretful and shamed. He should be thoroughly disgusted with himself, and with fellow young baseball stars like Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Josh Hader and Atlanta Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb, who had similar lapses in character exposed in recent weeks. After a pitiful outing Wednesday afternoon against the hapless Orioles, Yankees starter Sonny Gray couldn’t delete his Twitter account quickly enough to attempt, unsuccessfully, to hide his own questionable tweet from the past.
There are too many out there who act as insensitively as they did and don’t feel a sliver of the shame.
What’s the old saying? You are what you do when you don’t think anybody’s watching? Well, social media is still relatively fresh in our daily existence, and we have a generation of young men and women now entering the professional world who have grown up with it and, in some cases, used it with a naive disregard for its scope. These ballplayers aren’t the only ones who are going to pay for that ignorance.
When you’re young and dumb and an athletic star who is on top of the world and has never been humbled, you don’t think anybody is watching. You’re surrounded by sycophants, the “boys will be boys” types who all too easily laugh your stupidity off. Your friends think anything you say or do or post on social media is pretty cool, because you’re an athlete who has influence whether you deserve it or not.
When guys like Turner, Newcomb and Hader didn’t think anybody was watching, they spent their hours, tweeting atrocities using epithets for homosexuals and African-Americans, using words it’s difficult to feel comfortable writing around when children might be reading. Hader even appeared to throw some support behind “White power.”
What you’ll ultimately find out, either from guys like Turner, Hader and Newcomb or through the revelation of your own mistakes, is that freedom of speech doesn’t necessarily come with freedom from responsibility for your words.
The rest of the world is quite a bit less forgiving of the small-town heroes, and they’re waiting to tear you down.
We hear so much lately about ways aspiring athletes can avoid this sort of embarrassment.
Get off of social media is the big one.
Scrub your accounts of anything you wouldn’t want to be asked about with a television camera in your face.
Find an agent or parent or friend who cares enough to monitor clean up your messes before they go very public.
The sum of it, however, ignores the crux of the issue at hand, which is that too many young athletes don’t know any better than to believe what they type is OK to believe in the first place.
Eventually, the social media mavens who dig up this old information are going to start taking their own share of the criticism, because too much of the truth tends to turn too many folks off.
But want to know why they do this? You might be surprised to learn that it’s not to ruin a young man’s reputation, or to shine the light on a sport that has been more reactive than proactive to issues like this over the years.
It’s so this type of behavior, these types of thoughts, that type of language, isn’t normalized. So, fair warning to young athletes who use social media to spew hate or use insensitive language to describe members of our citizenry, a lot of us are rooting for these people to find you.
Hader and Newcomb, while hardly using it to excuse their words, cited their age as a reason for their insensitivity. They were both in their late teens when their respective messages were sent, and in no way should we think they were incapable of the personal change in attitude they both said they’ve undergone in recent years.
It’s mostly likely that they have sincerely changed. Chances are they were going to experience diversity in their high schools and home towns like they have in professional baseball clubhouses. Becoming pro ballplayers most likely gave them their first chance to be around people from different backgrounds and ideologies and parts of the world. To understand diversity, you have to open yourself up to it.
Turner said it best in that tearful apology, though.
“It’s not when I said the things I said,” Turner learned. “It’s that I said them at all.
“Make sure that anybody is aware of what they’re saying, at all times, no matter how you use it or what context you think you’re using it in. Words hurt, and it’s wrong and inexcusable for what I said.”
The answer to change is not rushing back to the clubhouse to erase your social media history in a pinch.
It’s being better in the first place.
DONNIE COLLINS is a Times-Shamrock sports columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT.