Major League Baseball Could Learn a Thing From ABC's 'Roseanne' Experience (Guest Column)

The league's unwillingness to take substantial action against Brewers All-Star Josh Hader for his racist, homophobic and misogynistic tweets is a larger statement about the differences between Hollywood and professional sports.
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Josh Hader saw the mass of media types rush toward his locker stall following what was an otherwise meaningless made-for-TV Major League Baseball All-Star Game on Tuesday night in Washington, D.C.

The Milwaukee Brewers' relief pitcher known for his breaking slider presumably knew what nastiness was coming back his way, because he had been warned by MLB officials: The reporters weren't necessarily interested in how he might recap his implosion when he gave up a three-run homer in the top of eighth inning that could have been the turning point in his National League teammates dropping an 8-6 decision to the American League.

Instead, this 24-year-old would be intensely, and necessarily, pressed to clarify something far more disturbing: things that had been digitally excavated from his verified Twitter account, one where he calls himself "Josh Haderade" and punctuates it, for some reason, with a trademark symbol.

The latter was a result of the former. Those fans upset by Hader's performance went on a mission to find more intel, possibly making him look worse.

They hit a spectacular trifecta of hate speak, posted back as early as 2011, when Hader was a dopey high school teenager. 

Racism — Strike one.

Homophobia — Strike two.

Misogynism — Strike three. 

So, he's out? Nope. Far from it. Wrong or extremely wrong for what he wrote.

Sports scribes and mic-holders, who now must be as adept in explaining the nuances of social media trolling as what constitutes traveling, in the NBA demanded that Hader address this. He said he posted during a time when he was "young, immature and stupid." He added that "when you're a kid, you tweet what's on your mind."

This might be the point where he asked if he could bring in a lawyer to finish the interviews.

Even though it was noted Hader apologized, Major League Baseball measured the reaction during the subsequent news cycle and then levied a somewhat predictable "punishment" of sensitivity training classes. It's part of what the league calls its "diversity and inclusion initiatives."

Members of the African-American community, the LBGT community, the women's rights movement — all those influential subsets of the greater human race that should be alarmed this kind of toxic language continues, whether or not the person doing it understands the deeper meanings and context — expressed all sorts of exasperation and resentment about how someone in the national spotlight has this festering internet DNA still accessible by anyone willing to go find it and expose them.

As part of the emotional connection people have with a team or a player, they often want to know who or what they're actually cheering for, whether it can be defended in sports-bar arguments and maybe why it might be cool or uncool to want their team to pursue a player in a trade or free-agent signing.

Hader wasn't doing himself or his family any favors, as some in attendance at Tuesday's game were turning their Brewers' jerseys inside out to hide the name and avoid confrontation.

The MLB statement in this case might not appease those who demand a stronger response. Finding "Mr. Hader's unacceptable social media comments in years past" and noting he "took the necessary step of expressing remorse for his highly offensive and hurtful language," MLB was not signaling for permanent expulsion or even a scarlet letter.

At the very least, Hader must be pleased he's not employed in Hollywood.

Roseanne Barr — likely banned from any MLB ballpark after shrieking a version of the national anthem during a visit to San Diego during the height of her sitcom career in 1990 — saw TV's No. 1 show (in the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 demographic) canceled almost instantly by ABC after what she later claimed to be an Ambien-induced racist tweet in May. (ABC subsequently greenlighted Roseanne spinoff The Connors, from which the disgraced actress will not be a part of and will not profit from.)

When something like this erupts in the volcanic court of public opinion, sports and entertainment entities are close enough in nature to understand they have to dance around land mines that are apt to blow up a reputation or two. One could even be their own.

Hader — who sent out nearly 19,000 tweets since 2009, when he opened his Twitter account (which has subsequently turned private and now appears to have been deactivated) — isn't the first and likely won't be the last to get flagged for his internet history.

Last April, the NFL had its test case when Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen had his Twitter feed exposed for racist remarks. A possible No. 1 overall NFL draft pick, he eventually went No. 7 in the first round to Buffalo.

Just before that, Villanova guard Donte DiVincenzo, named the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA men's basketball championship win over Michigan, was dragged through the media for his unsavory posts. Last month, he was the 17th overall pick in the NBA draft by Milwaukee.

Neither of them were punished or even recommended for sensitivity training by their new teams.

Imagine back in 1999 if social media had been around and the Atlanta Braves' John Rocker had participated. Another salty, left-handed reliever in his own right, Rocker rocked the boat when he was the subject of a Sports Illustrated cover story, exposing beliefs that he later called "conservative Republic rantings" by targeting minorities, gays and non-English-speaking immigrants. Rocker offered an apology and was suspended without pay for 28 games of the 2000 season, but after an appeal, that number was cut in half.

Credit the MLB Players Union for another victory in protecting free speech.

How one sport compares to another in addressing issues of tolerance depends on how they're all watching and trying to learn from one another as well as advising employees to scrub their social media as much as possible.

Self-policing in these kinds of personnel decisions are also up to how much a team, whether or not it's in a large or small market, is willing to risk alienating fans versus pursuing talent that could win them a championship.

In December 2015, the Dodgers appeared to have agreed to an off-season deal with Cincinnati to acquire relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman. But when the Dodgers were tipped off about an alleged domestic violence incident involving Chapman and his girlfriend a month earlier, they dropped it. The Yankees eventually felt safe enough to trade for Chapman, who was handed a 30-game suspension by MLB under its Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse policy. Chapman was then traded to the Chicago Cubs, helping them win the 2016 World Series, before going back to the Yankees as a free agent.

Chapman was also at Tuesday's All-Star Game, elected to be a member of the AL team by a vote of the players, but he was inactive because of injury.

Reporters also are trying to navigate this landscape that easily puts them in the middle of social media attacks with people checking their history to see if it's worth extracting more fodder.

Jon Heyman, a longtime reporter for the MLB Network as well as other online outlets, sent a tweet of his own hours before Tuesday's All-Star Game: "Josh Hader is my new favorite all star. I named him nicest, most unassuming all star and he gave me a lefty fist bump."

Heyman's tweet immediately became the topic for all sorts of reactions as the night went on. He responded hours later: "Hader's tweets uncovered from his teen-aged years were deeply offensive. But at least he stood at his locker and apologized and explained it (after being given the option not to talk tonight), and he seemed to understand what a bad mistake they were."

If you haven't fired down enough "Haderade" bitterness at this point, you've got gallons more angst to deal with now. That apparently is what Twitter is best used for — give yourself enough characters to assassinate your own character while helping to damage more livelihoods among those who haven't learned how to delete before they live among the elite.

Just realize that someone today on your sports radar who might be worthy of fame and praise could be guilty of leaving something up on a Twitter profile that years later might not be so damning if they were running for U.S. president — and might not affect a fan base that still has some affinity for the Charlie Sheen "Wild Thing" character from Major League.

Tom Hoffarth is a Los Angeles-based sports columnist and has covered MLB, the NBA, NFL, NHL and more since the 1990s.