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Column: What is the punishment for offensive tweets?
July 30, 2018
Sean Newcomb had enough problems explaining the pitch he threw to Chris Taylor when he was within a strike of throwing a no hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Then he had to call reporters back to the locker room Sunday in Atlanta to offer something even more difficult to explain — racist, homophobic tweets from his teenage years that Newcomb says do not reflect the man he is now.
Stop if you’ve heard this story before, and the odds are you have. It’s become an increasingly common refrain in today’s world, where social media give folks a platform to say whatever they want and then keep a record of it, well, pretty much forever.
Newcomb wasn’t the only one dealing with his past over the weekend. Someone looked up old tweets from Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner, while a few weeks ago Milwaukee reliever Josh Hader was called out for saying essentially the same kind of things as a teen.
The tweets, of course, should be condemned. They are bigoted, sophomoric and incredibly stupid expressions of opinion that have no place in sports — or society — today.
They are inexcusable in any form. Period, end of story.
But they’re out there, living on Twitter and assorted other social media. Even when deleted, they never seem to go away.
So then the question becomes what to do about them now?
Is it enough to do as Newcomb and Turner did, and immediately disavow the tweets and claim they’re not the person today they were six or seven years ago?
Is a public shaming enough punishment, or is there more work to be done to atone for their wrongs?
Finally, should a player be held responsible for the reaction of fans, who in Hader’s case gave him a standing ovation in his first game back in Milwaukee after his tweets were unearthed?
There are no easy answers, but the way Newcomb and Turner reacted to the discovery of their old tweets is telling. They disavowed them entirely, and for that both players get at least some credit for understanding the severity of their situations.
Newcomb immediately took ownership of his situation while barely having had time to digest what could have been a life altering no-hitter. He summoned media back to a closed locker room to say he is not the same person today as he was when he wrote them.
Turner apologized in a statement released by the team, but that might have been more a timing issue than anything since the Nationals were already done for the day. He will need to address it personally and publicly, and the guess is he’ll do just that.
The interesting thing about Turner is that he’s part of the “Shred Hate” program, the MLB’s anti-bullying initiative. He’s appeared in events for the program, and is featured in an ad that decries just the kind of things he spewed out on his Twitter account in 2011 and 2012 while playing at North Carolina State.
Is the 25-year-old who works on behalf of kids who get bullied the real Trea Turner, or is he the person stuck forever in time — at least on the internet — who tweets gay slurs and racial innuendos?
The guess is — at least the hope is — it’s Turner the person we see today. People grow and people change, and it’s important to note no disparaging tweets of his have surfaced past those years.
Meanwhile, on the same day Turner and Newcomb were called out for views they once espoused, Chipper Jones was inducted into the most hallowed place in baseball, the Hall of Fame.
Jones had all the credentials of a first-round Hall of Famer but 12 writers didn’t vote for him, and at least one said publicly why. It involved a tweet, of course, that Jones posted in 2015 questioning whether the Sandy Hook elementary school killings were a hoax and wondering if the assassination of President Kennedy was the same.
Jones would disavow his ramblings the next day, saying he had been misinformed. And when he went into the Hall of Fame on Sunday it was with the poignant story of his wife about to give birth and no mention of crazy conspiracy theories that are incredibly hurtful to the families of the children murdered at Sandy Hook.
“Chipper Jones shines in Hall of Fame speech,” read one headline.
If nothing else, it’s proof for Turner and Newcomb that memories fade and there is life beyond their tweets.
Yes, they’ve been called out, and rightfully so. There’s no place for anything of this sort.
Judge them for their tweets, but also judge them for their response. Most of all, judge them for the way they — like Jones — carry themselves forward.
Only then can we really determine whether the punishment fits the crime.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg
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