As of 9 a.m. Monday, the two leading headlines on ESPN.com involved Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals and Sean Newcomb of the Atlanta Braves, two skilled 25-year-old players. The stories involved nothing pertaining to skills or accomplishments. They involved apologies for tweets made years ago that contained racist/sexist/anti-gay references.
This followed the revelation of similar tweets of similar vintage from Josh Hader, who represented the Milwaukee Brewers in the All-Star Game. Those old tweets resurfaced during said All-Star Game. Newcomb’s tweets were brought to light just after he’d lost a no-hitter with two out and two strikes in the ninth inning Sunday at SunTrust Park. Turner’s tweets bubbled up later Sunday in a can-you-top-this duel between internet sleuths.
Before the night ended, 40 percent of the teams in the National League East had issued statements decrying comments made by their players long before they were their players. From the Braves: “We find the tweets hurtful and incredibly disappointing, and even though (Newcomb) was 18 or 19 years old when posted, it doesn’t make them any less tolerable.”
(Aside: I believe the Braves meant “more tolerable.” In their defense, they’d had a frazzled day, what with Joe Simpson offending the Dodgers, Newcomb nearly no-hitting the Dodgers and then issuing an apology of his own, the team trading for reliever Brad Brach and – oh, yeah – Chipper Jones being inducted in Cooperstown.)
From Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo: “(Turner) understands that his comments – regardless of when they were posted – are inexcusable and is taking full responsibility for his actions.”
To his credit, Newcomb himself alerted the Braves of the tweets when he saw them on his phone after the game. Nearly an hour after the assembled media at STP had finished interviewing him about his near no-hitter, we stood in the same clubhouse and asked him about tweets that had been posted in 2011 and 2012. It was among the strangest moments I’ve known in this business, and I was moved to ask: When Newcomb recalls the day, would he remember it for his pitching or for having to apologize for his tweets?
His response: “As the day I had a good start against the Dodgers.”
Perhaps. But recording 26 outs without yielding a hit isn’t the reason he’ll be meeting this week with Billy Bean, MLB’s inclusion ambassador. (Billy Bean isn’t to be confused with Oakland GM Billy Beane.) Bean recently met with Hader; surely a sit-down with Turner will be upcoming.
Baseball cherishes its Hall of Fame Sunday, so we can imagine the reaction of commissioner Rob Manfred when his phone started blowing up with news of the Newcomb/Turner tweets. MLB has labored long to convince the world that it is inclusive, this despite the dearth of African-Americans – the Braves, the team of Henry Louis Aaron, have one black player on their 25-man roster – and the behavior of people like Roger McDowell (who, while the Braves’ pitching coach, launched an anti-gay rant at a stunned fan) and Yuli Gurriel (who made an insensitive gesture after hitting a home run in last year’s World Series).
As easy as it is to rip MLB for anything and everything – it did allow PEDs to go unchecked for decades before seeing the light – we must note: Newcomb and Turner weren’t professionals when they made their offending tweets; Hader was an amateur when the first of his were posted. Not every tweet is seen by every Twitter user in the moment, but tweets, unless deleted, live on.
As Newcomb said Sunday, “I didn’t mean anything by it.” Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he was just quoting rap lyrics, just trying to look cool to his friends. Wonder how cool he feels today.
As my dad used to say, though I don’t believe he said it first: “You can’t legislate morality.” Newcomb, Turner and Hader have insisted that their inflammatory sentiments don’t reflect what they feel today, but they have to say that, do they not? Who among us can ever know what lurks in the heart of another human? Who among us is without sin? (I’d hate to have a audio record of my commentary on other people’s driving.)
The intent here isn’t to finger-point or sermonize. The intent is simply to note the incongruity: On what should have been his day of days, Sean Newcomb wound up making worldwide headlines – the Daily Mail ran screenshots of his tweets – for something he’d done when he was 18. But 18 isn’t, say, 11. He should have known better. Perhaps his example will help others to know better.
What’s put online doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It can lurk below, a leviathan waiting to break the surface when everything in your life seems to be going swimmingly. It can leave you abashed and apologetic. It can make people view you differently than if you hadn’t hit “send.” (Brewers manager Craig Counsell after Hader was booed in San Francisco: “This is hanging over Josh. He feels this every day.”) It can embarrass your employer, and employers don’t enjoy being embarrassed. You might think it’ll never happen to you. You might be wrong.
I recall what Father Tony Ricard of New Orleans – who is, alas, an incurable Saints fan – said in a guest appearance at our parish. These words don’t appear in the Bible, not even the Catholic version, but they could serve as the 11th Commandment for our WiFi’d world.
Those words: Don’t be stupid.