When offensive tweets posted from the Twitter account of Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader, a former Orioles draft pick, resurfaced while he was pitching in his first All-Star Game at Nationals Park last month, it sparked a wave of major leaguers’ social media ghosts being brought to the forefront as insensitive posts from their teenage days stained their reputation and the game’s.
Hader’s tweets, which were posted before the Orioles made him their 19th-round draft pick in 2012, were racially insensitive and homophobic. He apologized for the tweets after the All-Star Game, saying that he made some poor judgments as a teenager and that the tweets didn’t reflect his beliefs. Some of the posts were music lyrics or movie lines, but nonetheless were insensitive.
On the same night Braves left-hander Sean Newcomb carried a no-hit bid late into the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, insensitive tweets from Newcomb’s high school days resurfaced. Almost immediately after, old racist and homophobic tweets from Nationals shortstop Trea Turner’s account emerged.
Even though the tweets were from well before those players became professionals, Major League Baseball – which encourages players to connect with fans through social media – is taking steps to ensure its message of inclusion overcomes the recent bad publicity.
MLB established a social media policy in 2012 that encourages players to use their platforms to promote the game and connect with fans, but also warns of its potential perils, cautioning players to think twice before sending messages that they wouldn’t feel comfortable saying in a news conference and avoid posting in the “heat of the moment.”
The policy states that posting content that is “derogatory or insensitive to individuals based on race, color, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, or religion, including, but not limited to, slurs, jokes, stereotypes or other inappropriate remarks” is prohibited and subject to discipline from the player’s team or the league office in accordance with Article XII of the basic agreement.
There is a separate but similar policy for minor league players and staff, as well as for league personnel.
Individuals who have posted offensive social media content meet with a member of MLB’s social responsibility group as a first step in determining an appropriate course for sensitivity training. In recent cases, Billy Bean, MLB’s Ambassador for Inclusion, met with Hader three days after the All-Star Game and with Newcomb earlier this month. He also plans to meet with Turner.
As part of their rebuild, the Orioles will bring in several new players into the organization – including the 15 players added in July through non-waiver deadline trades. While it is unclear whether vetting players before acquiring them includes going through their social media accounts, the Orioles have guidelines for players in the organization to ensure responsible social media use.
The Orioles have procedures in place, separate from the MLB policy, according to a club source, in which the team reviews and monitors players’ public social media posts. Players already receive training on how to use social media responsibly, and in light of recent incidents, they will receive further instruction. Details of what that training entails weren’t specified.
“The Orioles take these matters seriously,” Orioles vice president of public relations and marketing Greg Bader said, “and have procedures in place that we follow, both in conjunction with and in addition to, Major League Baseball’s policies and efforts.”
Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, who is among the most active major league players on social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, is a good example of how social media can bring a player closer to fans and the community.
Through a Twitter post last month, Jones learned that the Mamie Johnson Little League team in Washington needed financial backing to get to their regional tournament in Connecticut, and Jones contributed $8,500 to help them. An Orioles fan connected with Jones through social media, leading to Jones participating in his marriage proposal on the field before the Orioles’ exhibition game at Triple-A Norfolk in March. Those are just a couple of examples.
“It’s obviously very positive,” Jones said of social media. “The things I’ve been able to do, the way I have been able to interact with fans, I met some really cool people I never would have met. There’s a really good interaction when it comes to athletes and fans, because we have a voice. We have a platform.
“The bad thing is, there’s a lot of people who have access to you. If you have a bad game, you get a lot of bad comments. When you have a good game, you have a lot of good comments. With that comes an understanding of, do you have a thick enough skin to handle it. You have to understand that you can’t control what the other person is saying, but if someone calls you a cuss word or something, you can’t respond with a cuss word, because you’re the athlete and you have to take the high road, which is just how it goes.”
Players realize that while social media allows them to give followers an inside glimpse as their lives, they have to be careful with how much they share.
“You’ve just got to smart and know that the light’s on you more than the regular individual,” said Orioles outfielder Joey Rickard, who owns Twitter and Instagram accounts. “At the same time, I think you should be able to share the kind of stuff you experience here. You just got to, sometimes, keep your opinions that might be turned negatively, keep that inside and just know there are kids out there and people out there who look up to you and see what you do. You’ve just got to understand that.”
Jones said the guidance he received from former Orioles PR director Monica Barlow helped him navigate responsible social media usage when he first joined Twitter in 2009.
“She taught me how to interact on Twitter and Instagram and she taught me how to be responsible and accountable for my actions,” Jones said. “She told me, ‘Do you want your mamma to read this stuff?’ and I said ‘No, because I don’t want to get beat up.’ … It was due diligence by her when it first started, but before (the age of) 18, the parents need to be held accountable for their kids actions. They’re your kids.”
Twitter can do major damage to a career if used irresponsibly. Two years ago, former Orioles catcher Steve Clevenger, then playing with the Seattle Mariners, posted a series of racially charged tweets in which he said that Black Lives Matter protesters were “pathetic” and “should be locked behind bars like animals.”
Clevenger apologized for his racist tweets. He was suspended by the Mariners without pay and has not played in the major leagues since.
MLB has long conducted social media awareness training at its Rookie Career Development Program, which is held in both English and Spanish, but it realizes that the offensive tweets from Hader, Newcomb and Turner were posted when they were teenagers, well before they became professional players.
As a result, MLB plans to partner with USA Baseball, Little League Baseball and other organizations in an effort to get their message of inclusion and acceptance to players at the youth level, understanding the importance of instilling that message to youngsters well before they have social media accounts.
(The Baltimore Sun Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.)
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