What Baseball Has Taught Us About Twitter

If you have been living under a rock for the last few weeks or don’t have a Twitter account, then you missed some big baseball news. No, I am not talking about the big trades that have taken over ESPN’s newsfeed, the MLB All-Star game, or even the Hall of Fame inductions in Cooperstown. What we have seen is an ugly underside of baseball.

After giving up a home run in the All-Star Game, Brewers left-hander Josh Hader walked back to the clubhouse and discovered that some of his old tweets from high school had been unearthed. They were homophobic, racist, and obscene tweets from the mind of a 17 year old. I will not repeat their content here. Within minutes of those tweets reaching Major League Baseball during the game, staff at the MLB All-Star Game made the Hader family change out of their gear and put on generic shirts without his name on them. They had a full-blown mess on their hands.  Josh had to apologize to the public and Major League Baseball is now requiring him to take sensitivity classes.

Major League Baseball, however, was not prepared for what would happen next. Right after coming one strike away from a no-hitter just a few days ago, Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb was the next player to have his racist and homophobic tweets go viral. Then National’s shortstop Trea Turner’s tweets were revealed. In the span of just a few weeks, baseball had a real mess on their hands. Each player apologized in public, shame went around, and the cycle continued. What was the punishment going to be? How are the organizations supposed to handled these situations? How would the fans respond?

I want be 100% crystal clear here. The tweets that were uncovered on those accounts are hurtful, despicable, and just flat out wrong. This post, however, is not about me bashing players or trying to suggest how Major League Baseball should respond. What I want to point out is the issue surrounding generation of players combined with fame and social media.

My generation is the first to grow up with the major development that is social media. I remember the hot thing in middle school was all of my friends having a MySpace page and then from there Facebook and now Twitter. What social media did was create a platform of expression that had a barrier. You were safe behind your keyboard. You could freely express yourself and connect with more people beyond those just in your 6th period lunch. That was all a false sense of security, however, as Josh Hader, Sean Newcomb, and Trea Turner are just finding out.

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I have posted my fair share of stupid things on social media. What I understood fairly quickly was that once something is on the internet, it is nearly impossible for it to go away. I know this every time I write a post for work or type something on this blog for fun. What the whole situation with these three Major League players shows is that this illusion that social media platforms creates as being a place of expression is just that: an illusion. The posts they made as terrible as they were are out there for the world to see. That is something that these individuals did not consider when they posted these things in high school.

I am not here to defend these men. The tweets they wrote on their accounts were exposed and that is completely on them. I believe these case studies serve as a very important reminder to all of us that we need to be careful with what we post. All of these players grew up in a world where these platforms existed and it does not help their situation when they beat the odds and become successful baseball players. Their failures can be a great teacher. They can teach us about how to properly act, what a tolerant and equal world should look like, and how offensive language and behavior that may seem innocent to one person can understandably be hurtful to others. I tell my high school baseball players everyday after practice and games to make smart choices because they represent both themselves and something much bigger than themselves; a program. Social media is an important place to start.

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Back to the topic at hand. I told you earlier in this post that I was not going to propose punishments for these players. What they did in their youth was their mistake and theirs alone. It is up to them to decide how they will make it up to the public and up to us as fans to decide if we should accept them or not. At the end of the day, it is a shame that these players’ hateful tweets exist. They do remind us, however, of how much work their is left to do to promote inclusion within global society. Major League Baseball must do a better job as a whole on screening the twitter accounts of their players. Players need to be responsible for what they post. We as a collective society must find a better way to have more inclusive conversations about acceptable behavior and language that goes beyond tweets and Facebook posts.

If Major League Baseball wants to create a more diverse and inclusive fan base, they need to find a consistent and fair solution. If we as a society want to actually promote a tolerant, inclusive, and equal society, then we must take what Hader’s, Newcomb’s, and Turner’s failures have taught us put those lessons to good use.

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