Rashard Mendenhall Responds to Criticisms of His Twitter Posts, But What Should We Make of His Apology?
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall found himself at the center of a media firestorm earlier this week, after his tweets following the American government's announcement of the killing of Osama bin Laden saw him take criticism from all parties involved.
It all started on Monday, when Mendenhall tweeted:
What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side...
That was immediately followed by:
I believe in God. I believe we're ALL his children. And I believe HE is the ONE and ONLY judge.
Those who judge others, will also be judged themselves.
For those of you who said you want to see Bin Laden burn in hell and piss on his ashes, I ask how would God feel about your heart?
Mendenhall also expressed doubt about the causes of the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, saying "We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style," before deleting it later.
Naturally, the American public, riding the emotional high of killing a man responsible for the deaths of thousands, did not take these tweets well. Since releasing those tweets, Mendenhall has been vilified by many who have read what he said.
Today, Mendenhall responded to those critics, in a blog post explaining why he said what he said.
Mendenhall is quick to point out that he meant no offense in the Tweets, and that his intention was simply to provoke thought. He tells readers he understands why his tweets were received so poorly, and apologized to all those who were offended, as well as apologizing for the timing of the statements.
But, what should we make of the apology? Is it yet another half-apology, the kind we've grown accustomed to from athletes, or is it something deeper and more heartfelt than that?
I'm not here to champion Mendenhall, nor am I here to attack him for his opinions and thoughts. In the United States, we have the right to our opinions, and we have a right to air them as we see fit.
If Rashard wants to state his views on bin Laden's death, he has a right to do so just as much as anyone else. He shouldn't have to apologize for having a certain viewpoint, even if it is one not shared by many other Americans right now.
However, the timing of the tweets was undoubtedly foolish. Mendenhall had to know that given the tenor of the discussion thus far, airing his views to his 36,956 followers on Twitter (many of whom then disseminated those views to the public) would not go over well. He also had to know that the Steelers' owners, the Rooney family, are incredibly close with the current President, and that his tweets would not be well-received there, either.
Frankly, Mendenhall's apology seems more genuine than most standard issue athlete apologies to me. He seems genuinely sorry for causing offense to anyone, and does apologize for the biggest issue most had with the tweets: the timing. He explains the reasons behind his decisions to make the posts, and apologizes for timing them in the way that he did.
I apologize for the timing as such a sensitive matter, but it was not meant to do harm.
Mendenhall wasn't necessarily wrong in trying to provoke thought (although why he had to throw the 9/11 conspiracy in there remains a mystery to me). It is something thousands of Americans have done on Facebook with their own quotes since the news broke. But he was certainly wrong to try and do it immediately after the fact.
As a public figure, Mendenhall should have known this would happen. He should have known his tweets, even if they were well-intentioned, would be taken this way, and blown up beyond what they needed to be.
There remains no need for Mendenhall to apologize for saying what he said. He has a right to his opinions (however misguided they may or may not be), and we have a right to disagree.
In the end, Mendenhall's apology seems genuine, and helps us to understand the thought behind his ham-handed efforts to provoke dialogue. It's sufficient for me to move on, even if it may not be for you.