Brewers reliever Josh Hader received a standing ovation from the crowd at Miller Park during Saturday’s 4-2 win over the Dodgers. In the seventh inning, the 24-year-old southpaw took the mound for the first time since Major League Baseball discovered a slew of racist, homophobic, and misogynistic tweets the player had posted in 2011-12. He was given a protracted round of applause from the home crowd, many of whom stood to loudly cheer before, during, and after the pitcher’s two innings of relief.
The appearance — and the overwhelmingly positive reaction it inspired — followed another apology from Hader after he met with his teammates and coaches and underwent his first round of sensitivity training on Friday. When asked to explain how his beliefs had evolved over the last seven years, he told reporters, “They were never my beliefs. I was young. I was saying stuff out of just ignorance and that’s just not what I meant.” He also revealed that he apologized to his teammates in private and hoped they realize he’s not the same person now, though he failed to publicly address any specific ways in which he had changed his thinking and behavior for the better.
It goes without saying that the response to Hader’s return on Saturday wasn’t a good look for the Brewers or their fans. The fact that the pitcher had some old, vile tweets exposed doesn’t make him a victim deserving of sympathy, nor does an ambiguous apology merit a pat on the back (let alone something as enthusiastic and approving as a standing ovation). Over the last week, there seems to have been a few missed opportunities to speak out about the importance of inclusivity and support for minorities, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community; instead, far more emphasis has been placed on reassuring Hader’s teammates and Major League Baseball at large that the tweets “don’t resemble the person [he] is now.”
It’s certainly possible that the fans in attendance on Saturday were both excited to see Hader return to the mound and cognizant of the long road he has ahead of him as he continues to make amends for his past actions. But that kind of nuanced reaction gets easily misconstrued, and it’s clear that Hader took the applause as a sign that Milwaukee’s fans had forgiven him for the tweets and were ready to move past them.
“It means a lot,” Hader told the media after his performance. “Having Milwaukee’s support, just knowing that they know my true character. Just forgiving me for my past, because that’s not who I am today.” He added that he’s not entirely sure he’ll receive such a quick and generous understanding from fans once the team hits the road on Thursday. Hopefully, he’s right.