In the last two weeks, three Major League Baseball players have had old homophobic and racists tweets surface and all three have been ordered to undergo diversity training.
Josh Hader of the Brewers, Sean Newcomb of the Braves and Trea Turner of the Nationals all apologized for tweets sent about seven years ago, when they were 17 or 18 and not yet in the Major Leagues.
The quality of the apologies matter and two seemed genuine while the third fell short. I am addressing how they apologized for their anti-gay tweets, since as a white man I am in no position to judge how they still feel about race.
Seemingly sincere apologies
- Hader tweeted “I hate gay people” when he was 17. By all accounts, Hader was in tears when he addressed his teammates. He also had a long meeting with Billy Bean, who spearheads MLB’s diversity initiatives and is a former player. Bean is openly gay.
“I was really convinced after a couple hours together today — much longer than we expected — that his experience as an athlete and a professional in an integrated, diverse environment has created the person that he is today,” Bean told the Associated Press after he met with Hader.
“I believe that, much like many of our millennial youth, he just probably forgot about whatever that moment was in his adolescence,” Bean added.
Hader has seemed genuine in his apology and owned the offensive things he had tweeted. He still didn’t deserve a standing ovation he got from Brewers fans, but I’ll trust Bean’s judgment on him.
- Turner used the word “faggot” when he was 18 and in college. Like Hader, Turner was tearful when he spoke publicly about his old tweets.
“For starters, I want to apologize everybody that was affected by things that I said: LBGT community, African American community, special needs community,” Turner said, speaking without notes or a prepared speech in front of him, eyes welled.
“I’m truly sorry for what I said and I want to take full responsibility for that. I want to apologize to my teammates, I just talked to them, make sure that they know my thoughts and where I’m at. I want to apologize to [GM] Mike Rizzo and the Nationals for bringing this distraction to their team, their organization, sorry for that as well. Most importantly, apologize to the fans. A lot of fans had been sharing their thoughts in the last few days and I’ve had a chance to read a few of them. I think that’s where it is most affected by what I said and I want to apologize to those people. ...
“It’s not when I said the things I said,” Turner said. “It’s that I said them at all.”
It was good that Turner did not excuse his offensive tweets because of how old he was when he wrote them. I sensed it helped that Nationals teammate Sean Doolittle wrote a strong condemnation of athletes who use such language.
“Homophobic slurs are still used to make people feel soft or weak or otherwise inferior — which is bullshit,” Doolittle wrote. “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.”
Turner also seemed moved by criticism he heard from Nationals fans offended by what he tweeted. “From reading the last few days, being a kid and things kids go through is kind of overlooked. That’s something I would like to take part in. I have in the past couple years done quite a bit through the team, but doing more and more is better.”
Turner seems genuinely contrite and aware of the impact his hateful words had. If it moves him to get more involved with marginalized groups, then we’ll know for sure.
An apology that is lacking
- Newcomb used “fag” in six tweets sent when he was 18 and in college. He met with Bean on Monday, but there was no report on what was said.
“I just want to say I’m sorry for the language that surfaced on my Twitter account,” Newcomb said in a news conference. “It’s not acceptable in any way. It’s not a reflection of the person or who I am. I don’t think that’s any kind of language that should be used in any context. ... I know it was hurtful and ... that’s not a testament to who I am. I don’t think it reflects who I am at all.”
That’s a pretty vague apology in that it doesn’t get into the specifics of the groups he attacked, unlike how Turner handled his. It is better than what Newcomb said a day earlier: “I felt that it would be good to address it right away and just let people know that I meant nothing by it,” Newcomb said. “I didn’t mean to offend anybody and I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’ll be smarter. I think that people who know me know that’s now the kind of person I am.”
The jury is still out on how contrite Newcomb really is. There has been little public acknowledgment from him of the impact of his words. No one uses “fag” so liberally without the word meaning something to them. Newcomb said he will meet again this weekend with Bean since the Braves are visiting New York, and maybe more light will be shed.