It will take more than a cursory apology for Josh Hader to put this behind him

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If you missed it, Brewers All-Star reliever Josh Hader landed in hot water the minute he stepped off the mound in Washington last night when multiple tweets he made in 2011-12* were uncovered containing some seriously gross, racist, misogynistic and homophobic language.

Almost as soon as it broke, Hader made a quick apology for the tweets, saying that he’s not the same person now than he was when he was 17 years-old. Major League Baseball is investigating the matter and Hader acknowledged that he must and that he will talk to his teammates about this, so the story is not over.

Some commenters and correspondents of mine, however, have said they believe it should be over. Indeed, they said it almost as soon as the news came to light. While a small handful of those folks likely take no issue with the language Hader used — there’s a lot of ugliness out there, particularly noticeable in the anonymous online world — others have simply, and it would appear genuinely, said that we should cut Hader slack for some bad choices he made when he was 17.

I will gladly cut Hader more slack for six and seven-year-old tweets he made as 17 year-old that he apologizes for genuinely than I would if he tweeted that stuff yesterday, but let’s not rush to “aww, he was just a kid” land seven hours and a night’s sleep after it all came to light. Indeed, there are many reasons why this is not a case for instant and automatic forgiveness.

This was not some kid breaking out a neighbor’s window with a slingshot. This was not someone saying “that’s gay” instead of “that’s dumb” in the way a lot of us have in the past. This was not someone using a word or phrase that only recently came to be accepted by most people as unacceptable or said something that, while not containing any awful individual words was insensitive, to use the parlance of the day. It was some seriously ugly language (go read it if you’d like), used consistently, repeatedly and confidently. It’s not from some hazy time in the past like the 1970s. It’s from 2011 and 2012. It’s language that he and everyone else knew, at the time, to be profoundly offensive to a massive number of people and which was unacceptable to use in a public forum. Not just now, with the hindsight of age and time, but then, even at the age he was. The tweets are a window into a really gross and disturbed person’s mind.

Hader should — and he will — be given the chance to apologize and to make amends. No one is suggesting he be banished to an island and he certainly won’t be, so don’t even make a suggestion that he is or will be any sort of victim of P.C. culture or whatever the hell else people cite in order to excuse their awful behavior or the awful behavior of others. At the same time, however, let us not let him off the hook with a cursory apology and a conclusory “I’m not like that anymore” statement to a beat writer five minutes after the controversy came to light.

For one thing, no one else would be given such an easy pass like that. No politician or musician or artist or job applicant or anyone else, famous or non-famous, would simply be able to cite being 17 as a get-out-of-decency-free card. We routinely try criminal defendants that age as adults. We make 17 year-olds of color conform their behavior to the most unreasonably high standards, set by others, in order to avoid being discriminated against or worse. For his part, Hader was an elite high school athlete who knew damn well that what he said and did in public was scrutinized in a fundamentally different way than what others said and did and nonetheless tweeted that garbage anyway. He did it either because his level of empathy and respect for women, blacks and homosexuals was defective and abhorrent or because he knew better and simply didn’t care.

I am not suggesting Hader not be given a chance to apologize and make amends for all of that. I am not suggesting that he not be able to continue to pitch late innings for the Milwaukee Brewers, become rich and famous and live his life happily and freely. I am merely saying that it is not too much to expect him now, less than 12 hours after all of this has come to light, to have to do some actual work to explain and atone for it. To not just say that he’s “a different person” now but to tell us how — apart from getting caught being obnoxious — he became a different person and what that really means. To expect him to explain this and to apologize to his teammates, and not just the two who happened to be in Washington with him last night. To explain and to apologize to his fans, many of whom are women and minorities, and to ask for their forgiveness and understanding.

I am not, to use a phrase someone threw at me last night, “on my high horse” about this. I am not holding Hader to some unreasonable, liberal/P.C/social justice warrior standard in which poor, victimized Josh Hader can simply not win. I am simply saying that this is far more serious than finding out some 80-year-old man jumped a subway turnstile back in 1954 and that the acceptance of responsibility, the apology and the work Hader has to do in light of this is not to issue some quick and cursory one offered to a national beat writer as he towels off after a postgame shower.

I realize our standards and expectations of certain public figures in this country have become impossibly low, but my God, they are not that low, nor should they be.

*There were some putative Hader tweets floating around Twitter of a more recent vintage, particularly one about Trayvon Martin from 2016, but there is reason to suspect at least that one is a Photoshop. Hader has locked his account, however, and it cannot be confirmed. It’s not really important, though, given that Hader has admitted to making multiple ugly tweets, to make such a determination at this moment, so we’ll leave the analysis of each and every individual tweet for another time. 

Thoughts on a time without baseball

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This is a terrifying time to be alive. There’s no cute way of phrasing that or softening it. The coronavirus pandemic is completely and utterly terrifying. It’s a black cloud of dread hanging over our heads. The age of sheltering in place and social distancing has driven a stake through the hearts of our communities. It’s hard to not feel alone.

Sports were (and will be again) an excellent source of community. Whether it was in the stands, with friends at home or online, sports gave us something to bond over. It’s hard to do that with abbreviated replays of old events and Twitch streams of players challenging each other at video games. This was supposed to be the first weekend of the MLB season, the first in a long series of weekends when people would be crashing at home and yelling about infielders booting ground balls instead of a lack of ventilators.

I miss that. I miss that sense of togetherness. There’s an inherent sense of joy that togetherness. It’s missing from our lives right now. Even if we’re alone when magical moments happen, group texts and social media allow us to freak out with our friends and fellow fans. I was by myself at home when Howie Kendrick doink’d a ball off the foul pole in Houston, but the shared excitement on my Twitter feed enriched the moment in a way that wasn’t truly tangible until Opening Day came and went with nothing but old games to offer.

Obviously this concern is beyond secondary to the genuine suffering taking place right now. People are dying. That comes before everything else, end of discussion. The importance of sports as a social focal point pales in comparison to that terrible reality. People are dying and the acceleration of the number of American dead shows no sign of stopping. We can all go without sports for a long time if it means it will help curb the spread of the virus.

This is a baseball site. Baseball is on my mind, and so is the loss of the shared experience of baseball. There’s no good remedy for this. I applaud MLB for trying to fill that void as best as it can, but there won’t be an adequate substitute for the shared experience of real games until the crisis is contained and sports can begin anew.

I apologize if this post has been something of a downer. My intent isn’t to depress, but to share what’s been on my mind, and to try to spark some sort of sharing. You’re on this site because you love the game, and the game has been put on hold by a horrifying force of nature. Baseball has served as a way to get your mind off of terrible things, and now the terrible thing is front and center.

The best we can do is to be here for one another. I’m curious to hear from the readers. Have you found a way to fill the baseball-shaped void in your daily lives? Is there something you’re doing to get your sports fix? Have you been getting that sense of baseball fandom camaraderie from somewhere else? Share your thoughts in the comments, or reach out on social media if you like.

If you want to learn more about COVID-19 or think you might need to be tested, give the CDC’s site about the virus a read. Informing yourself is the most important step. Washing your hands and staying home, if possible, is the best way to protect yourself.

Stay safe and be well.

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