Twitter Firestorm Gives MLB Golden Chance to Be Vocal on Social IssuesJuly 31, 2018
The tweets from Sean Doolittle came rapid-fire Monday afternoon.
3:07 p.m. PT. 3:08 p.m. 3:08 p.m. 3:09 p.m. And on and on until Doolittle was done, five minutes and nine tweets after he began.
That quickly, the Washington Nationals closer had summed up where baseball is and where baseball can go in dealing with old and offensive tweets from some of its young stars. That smoothly, Doolittle had provided his fellow players and his game with a blueprint that could do something better than make this all go away before anyone else can get in trouble.
"We have to start caring as much about the content of the posts as we do about when they were made and how they came to light," Doolittle wrote in the second tweet.
The easiest thing to do is to wonder why these players or their friends or their advisers didn't scrub the offensive words off the internet before they could surface in such embarrassing ways this month. The best thing to do is to teach these players and all others why and how words can be so hurtful.
And the biggest hope has to be that baseball can help lead, that the game that once helped advance social justice with the example of Jackie Robinson and others can provide an example for American society at a time when civil discourse is so often lacking.
To be clear, what Josh Hader, Sean Newcomb and Trea Turner wrote years ago on Twitter wasn't just uncivil. It was offensive, and no matter how long ago it was or how little it might reflect the players' views now, it was hurtful.
Every player should read the outstanding column Barry Svrluga wrote Monday in the Washington Post, quoting fans from the gay and transgender community as they reacted to Turner's tweets.
"It feels like an actual gut punch," Jenn Rubenstein told Svrluga. "There's an actual, visceral response, and you're trying not to cry."
Like many other industries, baseball has tried to advance that message in recent years with diversity training. Four years ago, then-Commissioner Bud Selig named Billy Bean as the sport's ambassador for inclusion. Bean, a former major leaguer who came out as gay after his playing career ended, was made MLB's vice president for social responsibility and inclusion in 2016.
In both roles, he has met with teams and with players, promoting greater understanding. And there is more understanding now.
The offensive tweets that have been uncovered don't change any of that. Hader's tweets, which came to light as the Milwaukee Brewers reliever was pitching in the All-Star Game, were from 2011 and 2012. Newcomb's tweets, which surfaced soon after the Atlanta Braves pitcher took a no-hitter into the ninth inning Sunday, were from those same years, as were offensive tweets by Nationals shortstop Trea Turner.
I won't repeat any of the tweets here. Some were racist, some homophobic. It doesn't really matter which were which or which came from which players. As Doolittle tweeted Monday, it doesn't matter how they were discovered and who exactly wanted to make sure they were seen.
To Hader's credit, people who know him say he hasn't asked why the tweets came out, only why he was so stupid or insensitive to have written them in the first place.
I don't know him. I don't know Newcomb. And while I wrote a profile of Turner for Bleacher Report in October, I can't claim to really know him, either. I can't tell you what they really think now, let alone what they thought in high school.
I can't tell you why they never deleted those tweets (though I will say finding old tweets isn't nearly as easy as some have made it sound).
I wish they had deleted them, if only because it would have saved some pain for people like Rubenstein, who was quoted in Svrluga's story in the Post.
But they did come out, and they did cause pain, and the only thing that could make any of us feel better about it is if they also spur players and baseball to take action.
Action doesn't mean punishment, and it doesn't mean attempting to scrub any bad words or deeds from someone's public record (though that's not a bad idea). It means speaking out like Doolittle did. It means players like Doolittle, who get it, taking the time to make sure their teammates get it, too.
He can tell those teammates: "Here's why it's important to have a social conscience, and here's why saying the wrong thing can hurt people. And if you want help, I can help point you in the right direction."
It can begin with one player, but then it has to be two and then three and then 15 and then maybe 50. It can begin with talking to teammates, but it can move from there to talking to fans.
It can start with Svrluga's examples and quotes from those who felt damaged by what was said.
Or it can start right now, with each of those nine Doolittle tweets from Monday:
Sean Doolittle @whatwouldDOOdo
Homophobic slurs are still used to make people feel soft or weak or otherwise inferior - which is bullshit. Some of the strongest people I know are from the LGBTQIA community. It takes courage to be your true self when your identity has been used as an insult or a pejorative.
Sean Doolittle @whatwouldDOOdo
It’s a privilege to play in the major leagues and we have an obligation to leave the game better than we found it. There’s no place for racism, insensitive language or even casual homophobia. I hope we can learn from this and make the MLB a place where all our fans feel welcome.
That's where baseball is, but that's also where baseball can be. The tweets were terrible, but perhaps just a little of what results from them can be good.
It can happen, but only if more players and more people in general take what Doolittle said to heart.
Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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