The night before David Ortiz declared Boston was “our [expletive] city” and gave some poor Federal Communications Commission employee a heart attack, Red Sox third baseman, Will Middlebrooks, took to the Twittersphere to express his excitement about the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings.
@middlebrooks tweeted on April 19: “He’ll forever be known as suspect #2 bc no one can pronounce his name #lfyjnluvvswrhsweddhk
The flippant tweet about the difficulty enunciating the suspect’s name is sacrilegious at worst and a lapse in judgment at best. And the fact it has since been deleted suggests a retrospective admission from Middlebrooks, either on his own accord or at the Red Sox request, that the remark was in poor taste. The following Monday, Bruins star Tyler Seguin found himself embroiled in controversy after his own mishap on Twitter.
@tylerseguin92 tweeted: “Just listened to the song in my bed. Gave me goosebumps no homo. My roommate and boy have some skills @freddybender @KnucklesNBS
The predisposition to pick and choose what coaches and players can – and can’t – say is an epidemic in the sports world. Ask Rick Pitino about who is (and isn’t) walking through that door or Allen Iverson about the merits of practice. In their world, freedom of speech is a liability, not a liberty. But athletes aren’t having dinner with your parents, dating your sister, watching your kids, or passing bills in Congress. They jump and run. Win and lose. That’s it. Production is king.
I’ve never met Seguin, but based on limited interaction with Middlebrooks, he seems like a gregarious dude. Someone you’d like to have a beer – or 12 – with. The 24-year-old is part of a Red Sox team that’s changed the conversation on Yawkey Way from chicken, beer, and Halo to baseball. Seguin is an All-Star and Stanley Cup champion. That’s where each fits into our lives. Nothing more, nothing less.
An athlete’s social commentary speaks to awareness – or lack thereof – about what’s going on in the world around them. Neither Seguin nor Middlebrooks covered themselves in glory, but this isn’t San Francisco 49ers cornberback Chris Culliver discouraging openly gay players in the NFL. The incessant spotlight of Twitter occasionally illuminates warts 140 characters at a time. But you’re telling me the fans at Madison Square Garden on Saturday who booed Paul Pierce during a ceremony to honor the victims of the tragedies in Boston weren’t off base either? Why hold athletes to a different standard than Joe Six-Pack? I learned long before Middlebrooks and Seguin hit the Tweet button that people can be crass.
Yet media hordes wait for salacious sound clips just as much as insight into the games they cover. Twitter exacerbates this tendency. In the context of sports, these meltdowns provide perspective into a team’s mental state, but playing Gotcha-Journalism with an athlete commenting on current events or making an inappropriate remark, makes as much sense as dissecting President Obama’s NCAA Tournament bracket. Context is everything.
Follow Ryan Hadfield on Twitter @Hadfield__