During the high school football media day hosted by In The Game magazine at the end of July, coaches from around Coastal Georgia gave previews about what to expect on the field this season. But a large number of coaches also took time to talk to the players in attendance, reminding them of their statures in their communities and the responsibility that comes with it.
The most pointed comments were warnings about social media use. McIntosh County Academy coach Tony Glazer summed up the coaches’ warnings.
“I can tell you firsthand there are people at colleges whose only job is to monitor social media,” Glazer said. “It’s the easiest thing that can get you in trouble. It can take two seconds to retweet something and lose everything you’ve worked for.”
His most important lesson was saved for the end.
“Whether you delete it or not, it can be found.”
Truer words have never been spoken at any kind of media day.
If nothing else has become obvious in recent weeks it’s that past social media posts can come back to haunt you, even when you are the toast of the sports world.
Brewers pitcher Josh Hader was pitching during the All-Star Game when racist and homophobic tweets from when he was a teenager were dug up. Since this was the All-Star game, MLB let its hair down and allowed players to have their phones with them in the dugout and on the field. I’m sure they got a good look at what everybody else on Twitter was talking about before Hader returned to the dugout.
Atlanta’s Sean Newcomb had just come within a strike of throwing his first no-hitter when he lost it nine days ago. The talk afterwards wasn’t about a young pitcher’s stellar performance, but about old tweets that were racist and homophobic in nature.
The same thing happened to Nationals shortstop Trea Turner not long after Newcomb, possibly a case of fan retaliation as rivals take new measures to try to tweak each other.
All the men involved in the situations apologized for the remarks made as boys and sincerely insisted that it didn’t reflect who they are as men today. The offensive tweets will be with all three for the rest of their lives, however. Opposing fans will never let them escape it.
While some fans will use it as kindling to ignite rivalries, I hope the controversy lives on in a different way. I want it to be used as a lesson for high school and college athletes on the power of social media.
Whether it was quoting a song lyric or an inside joke between friends, there is no excuse or defense for using that kind of language. Racist and homophobic views have no place in the world today, especially in athletics which we perpetuate as the ultimate meritocracy.
It’s also important to note that teenagers can be remarkably stupid at times, and it’s not limited to just today’s teens.
My friends and I in high school were a pretty smart bunch. All of us were honors students, but it didn’t stop us from doing some pretty dumb things. One particularly boring New Year’s Day, we tied a broken go-kart to the back of a truck and drove it around a neighborhood. Looking back, we were lucky none of us were hurt or killed. It was such a stupid thing to do. We were also lucky there was no social media to immortalize our stupidity.
Hopefully, the words Hader, Newcomb and Turner tweeted as teens are not an insight into what was in their hearts, but instead examples of stupid teens saying stupid things on a platform they didn’t fully understand at the time.
Today’s young athletes won’t have that excuse when their old tweets are dug up. Remember what Glazer said — even if it is deleted, someone can and will find it.