Have One Doubt, They Call it Treason

The Rashard Mendenhall dustup has been a good illustration of the ultranationalism that runs through even the nonpolitical media. (Quick recap: Mendenhall, a pro football player, made two or three tweets after the bin Laden raid. The first, and what I took to be his main point, expressed disgust at the public celebrations of bin Laden’s death simply because it’s disgusting and dehumanizing to celebrate anyone’s violent death. The followups were murkier and oddly qualified his main point to the effect that people hadn’t heard bin Laden’s side of the argument – plus there was a dash of 9/11 trutherism thrown in.) Predictable media firestorm resulted, with endorsements lost, etc., etc. After their cowardly behavior I’m not hurrying to buy Champion sportswear anytime soon, by the way. Based on what I’ve seen, I have a hard time believing that the later tweets were really what caused this controversy. Merely dissenting on the acceptability of dancing in the streets after the killing was what set everything off.

The ESPN roundtable on the whole dumb affair (video at the above link) is pretty predictably boneheaded, but I did think Scoop Jackson got close to the mark here by noting that most professional athletes haven’t really been trained on their employers’ policies on social media, so every single incident ends up being dealt with ad hoc and players are never told exactly what the boundaries of acceptability are. Personally, I think the key to the whole “should celebrity athletes tweet” debate  is that those boundaries themselves are  virtually impossible to define –  an employer like the NFL simply cannot always know in advance what’s going to be “controversial” and what isn’t. A tweet about buying your spouse a fur coat could pass without incident, or it could result in PETA going on the warpath.  The really big determinant of a “controversy” is how big a megaphone the offended people have. With that in mind, I come down firmly on the side of player freedom: let the damn athletes tweet. God forbid they might say something that makes their fans rethink their opinions once in awhile.

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