Outrage about a standing ovation given pitcher Josh Hader after his public shaming for hateful tweets he wrote as a teenager doesn’t mean baseball is racist. But it does speak volumes about resentment for the dead hand of political correctness.
It’s become a pattern almost as familiar as the #metoo exposes of men guilty of sexual harassment or assault. The ritualized shaming of celebrities over their past indiscretions on Twitter has become something of a cottage industry. In the past weeks, attention has been focused on baseball players who used racist or homophobic language on their Twitter accounts in high school and college.
Among those nabbed by those seeking to take down famous people by scouring several years’ worth of tweets was Hader, a 24-year-old star relief pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers who pitched in this year’s All Star game. When he was 17, Hader said he “hated gay people” and expressed support for “white power” and the “KKK.”
Since then, two other players have also been outed for hate-filled tweets. When he was 18, Sean Newcomb, now a 25-year-old pitcher with the Atlanta Braves, repeatedly tweeted a homophobic slur and once used the n-word in 2011 and 2012. Trea Turner, a 25-year-old shortstop with the Washington Nationals, was also guilty of using a gay slur, anti-gay comments, and a joke with racist overtones when he was 18.
Online Mob Angry about the Failure to Comply
All have been sternly reprimanded by their employers, exposed to a storm of criticism from the public, and humbly apologized and vowed to never repeat the offense. Major League Baseball quickly announced that Hader will undergo sensitivity training and got a talking to from the sport’s designated diversity advocate, Billy Bean, a former player who subsequently came out as gay. Newcomb and Turner will likely get the same treatment.
That might not be enough to satisfy those who feel that teenage online venting of despicable sentiments is worthy of stiffer punishment than a public shaming and a slap on the wrist. But since discipline of players is governed by the collective bargaining agreement negotiated by MLB with the powerful baseball players’ union, that’s all that can be done to them until new rules might mandate suspensions for past social media violations.
But that’s not really what’s bothering the sport’s critics. The player’s tweets provoked pro forma expressions of disapproval that seemed more a matter of form that any genuine outrage about what teenage athletes might have said on Twitter long before they were the focus of national attention. But it’s the refusal of many fans to agree with the verdict condemning them that has provoked the most anger.
How Dare People Support Players Who Apologize
When Hader returned to the mound in Milwaukee for the first time since being exposed as a presumably reformed teenage bigot, those in attendance rose and gave him a standing ovation. This was, as New York Times sports columnist Michael Powell put it, a demonstration of “unbridled white id” and a case of “baseball showing its whiteness.”
In Powell’s eyes, the spectacle of the hometown fans giving him a warm welcome back after his ordeal illustrated a culture of racism that is pervasive in President Donald Trump’s America in general and baseball in particular. Powell was also furious that the reporters who cover the Brewers treated Hader with kid gloves, asking him questions about the fans’ positive reactions rather than grilling him about high school. Powell regarded with equal contempt Bean’s statement of pride in Hader for having had the courage to publicly apologize and face the music for his past.
Had Powell waited a few days, he might have noted that when Hader next pitched on the road he got a very different reception. In San Francisco, he was subjected to prolonged booing. That might have been because the Bay Area is home to a thriving gay community.
But, like the Milwaukee fans’ cheers, the boos on the road may have more to do with the fact that people who go to games tend to cheer their hometown favorites and shower opponents with abuse regardless of whether the players in question are paragons of virtue or well-known miscreants. The exception to that rule is the fact that in some cities — most particularly New York, Boston, and Philadelphia — home team players guilty of conspicuous failure on the field are jeered even more brutally than opponents.
Racism, Racism, All the Time
But Powell’s agenda is broader than just the question of how gently or roughly teenage Twitter bigots who grow up to be Major League Baseball stars are treated. As a columnist Powell follows the left-liberal agenda of his newspaper with respect to any subject, not excluding sports, which has proved to be as much if not more of a political minefield about race as any other field of endeavor.
Powell was quick to compare the support Hader got in Milwaukee after being exposed with the abuse directed at African American players in the National Football League who kneel during the national anthem in what they claim is a protest against police brutality directed at minorities. But sticking just to baseball, Powell couldn’t help himself from resurrecting complaints about minority players expressing their individuality by wearing their caps backward as Ken Griffey Jr. or flipping their bats after hitting their home runs rather than just putting their heads down and trotting around the bases.
In his view, the declining number of African-Americans players in baseball isn’t the product of a cultural trend in which black athletes and audiences have made it clear they prefer other games. Instead he believes it is due to the racist culture of a sport in which players pride themselves on avoiding the sort of showboating that is widely accepted in football and baseball.
That Latin American players increasingly dominate baseball doesn’t fit in with his thesis. That most Latino players also seem to accept the traditional notion that playing the game of baseball “the right way” and respecting rather than showing up opponents applies to everyone, also contradicts his assumptions. But it’s true that the fan base of the sport appears to be whiter and older than that for the other two most popular team sports.
Yet Powell may be on to something when he suspects that the cheers for Hader said something more than the desire of Brewers’ fans to prop up one of their better players under fire during a pennant race. Nor is he wrong to think that public reaction to the attention devoted to teenage Twitter offenses or even the desire to have athletes stand at attention during the anthem has something to do with the rise and ongoing appeal of President Donald Trump.
Should We All Lose Jobs Over Stuff We Did as Teens?
Hader, Newcomb, and Turner’s tweets were vile and indefensible. But they probably tell us more about the perils of growing up in the age of social media and the sort of crude banter that sometimes passes for conversation among teenage boy athletes than whether these three young men deserve to be subjected to the twenty-first-century’s version of Puritan New England’s stocks where the public could mock and pelt offenders with garbage for having violating community norms.
That teens often use such sentiments is shocking and unfortunate. But the fact that social media enables us to link public adult careers with youthful indiscretions is to be regretted. That as President George W. Bush said of his own misspent youth, “When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible,” is a given for most of us but apparently not if we have teenage Twitter accounts.
Powell may self-righteously say that a 17- or 18-year-old is virtually an adult and should not be given a pass for childhood faults. But anyone who has parented a youngster of that age knows that someone growing up in this era is more of a child than the adults they all pretend to be.
The idea that even celebrities and well-paid ballplayers can be subjected to this sort of scrutiny is a warning to all parents and teenagers to be careful about what they post online. But it isn’t just the patent unfairness of judging adults by their conduct as teens that bothers so many people as is the manifestation of the dead hand of political correctness.
Lots of Americans Are Sick of the PC Mob
So much of our culture is driven by the desire to seek victim status and the need to pull down those who cross the line into offensive behavior. Even when offenders deserve to be called out for bad behavior — such as Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet about Obama administration figure Valerie Jarrett — the punishment is sometimes so onerous that it doesn’t always seem to fit the crime.
A career death penalty for a tweet seems egregious especially when the same guardians of public morality are extolling those — like football player Colin Kaepernick who started the anthem kneeling movement — who offend the public sensibilities in other ways. Under these circumstances, it’s little wonder that a lot of Americans find themselves rooting for those under fire for being offensive.
It is neither an exaggeration nor a particularly keen insight to note that Trump’s willingness to offend the sensibilities of liberal elites and to transgress the rules of political correctness was and remains part of his appeal. But that didn’t mean that the 63 million Americans who voted for him were racist.
Rather, it shows, like the ovation for Hader from baseball fans, many of us are fed up with our supposed betters telling us how to behave, even if that means a cheer for a person who isn’t entirely admirable. If those, like the Times’ Powell, don’t understand, it says more about the culture war liberals have been waging than it does about racism in sport or politics.