When I was a boy a “mobile” phone was that one in the kitchen that had a 5 foot cord that allowed you to talk out in the garage where hopefully, your parents couldn’t hear you. There were certain words, however, that I never used whether they could hear me or not, particularly in mixed company. A young man named Josh Hader brought this memory to mind recently in a most unusual way. Hader, who just turned 23 in June, was representing the Milwaukee Brewers in his first All-Star Game, and even as he was pitching, people in the “Twitterverse,” as it’s called, began unearthing racist and sexist tweets, the latter expressed with the most explicit and vulgar words, that Hader had published when in high school. Hader immediately apologized after the game, appearing quite contrite and sincere. In fact, his two fellow Brewer All-Stars, Lorenzo Cain and Jeremy Jeffress, both of whom are African-American, accepted the apology immediately.
As of this morning (July 30, 2018) you can add Atlanta Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb and Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner to the list of major league baseball players who tweeted “stupid stuff,” to use Newcomb’s words, when they were teenagers.
The words that these three tweeted are indefensible, but I would offer this defense of all three individuals: They are products of a society that has lost all perspective on acceptable public discourse.
Not all thoughts should be expressed. Not all expressions should be used and if they are used, there should be a very specific context in which they become acceptable. This was once our standard, but now, of course, reality television, twitter, and Facebook offer an opportunity to pour out your heart, unfiltered and raw, so that you can let everyone know at this very moment that you are ANGRY! Or sad or bitter or jealous or plotting revenge or whatever the passion of the moment may be, and in any language you choose with no ramifications other than perhaps a reprimand in the comments, which you may then delete. Many of our celebrities, including actors, reality TV stars, sports figures, and politicians no longer adhere to any standard, which, of course, makes it easier for our neighbor to abandon a standard for civil discourse. Ultimately, that makes it easier for us to throw our former standard to the winds. I seriously wonder if most high school students even know what vulgar means.
You have the right to offend, but I have the right to not be offended. You may offend through your art—I don’t have to go to the art museum. You have the right to offend in your television show—I don’t have to watch. When we all share a public space, such as a busy street or a ballpark, however, then you don’t have the right to offend. It is in such public places that a standard of public discourse should be maintained for one very important reason: It is a sign that we respect each other, and that we are not going to chance offending others, especially when there is no need and there is no cause.
All of which brings us back, not to Hader, Newcomb, and Turner, but to ourselves. If you don’t approve of your ballplayers tweeting slurs and vulgarity, then don’t use that language when tweeting about the guy in the car in front of you or the team you hate the most or the President, however mad or disgusted you are with any of those people at the moment. The only way that we will restore civil public discourse is to be civil to one another. Standards come about through the example that we set for one another. Josh Hader, Sean Newcomb, and Trea Turner did not sin in a vacuum.