SportsPulse: MLB insider Bob Nightengale details the league’s reaction to Josh Hader’s tweets and the dangers of social media that have plagued athletes.
MILWAUKEE — We are supposed to forgive and forget, believing they were stupid, irresponsible mistakes made by Milwaukee Brewers All-Star reliever Josh Hader as a teenager.
But we can’t.
Maybe not ever.
We are a society built on second chances and redemption, but we pick and choose who we forgive.
We never forgave John Rocker for his racial and homophobic remarks, but we forgave Kobe Bryant, who settled out of court with a rape victim. Baseball treated Alex Rodriguez like a pariah, but now he’s an ambassador.
Now, we’re trying to wrestle with our emotions on how we’re supposed to feel about Hader, whose racist, homophobic and misogynistic tweets in 2011 overshadowed the All-Star Game.
“I regret the mistakes I made in the past,’’ said Hader, who apologized to his teammates earlier in the day, breaking down in tears. “That doesn’t resemble the person I am now. Those are not my beliefs at all. They were never my beliefs. I hurt people by those tweets, and that hurts me deeply.’’
To Hader’s credit, after reflecting on the hideous tweets for the past three days, there were no excuses. He didn’t make the same mistake as he did after the All-Star Game, saying he was a child. He didn’t reiterate the comment that teenagers do a lot of immature things.
He was not a child. He was 17 years old, old enough to drive and nearly old enough to vote, not a 6-year-old. Sure, teenagers can be immature, but egging a house or wrapping toilet paper around trees isn’t the same as issuing vile tweets for all of your buddies to see.
This was a young man who was a professional baseball pitcher at the age of 18, certainly old enough — and you’d think mature enough — to understand his actions.
Maybe, these views were actually the way he felt growing up in Maryland before spending six years in professional baseball, and surrounded by African-Americans, Latinos, women and homosexuals in a diverse workplace.
“They were never my beliefs,’’ Hader says. “I was young. I was staying stuff out of ignorance. It’s not what I meant.’’
Hader told his teammates, and MLB executive vice president Billy Bean, that he was mostly reciting rap lyrics when he used racial slurs, demeaned women and slewed hatred toward gay people. Yet, some of those tweets were his own words, he conceded, trying to be cool with his buddies, and acting stupid.
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“I was young,’’ he said. “I was staying stuff out of ignorance. This isn’t me. I hope that people I touched, and came across, know who I truly am. I made mistakes. I’m not perfect.
“I’ve grown as a person, and baseball really helped me grow.’’
There wasn’t a Brewers teammate who publicly condemned Hader, with all of them filling a room and surrounding him at his four-minute press conference. Several players and staffers privately say Hader would have been the last player on the team they envisioned typing those tweets.
Brewers outfielder Brett Phillips, who knows Hader better than anyone on the team, and has been his roommate for parts of the last four years, insists he has never once heard anything out of Hader’s mouth hinting of racism.
“Obviously, we were all in disbelief when this came out,’’ Phillips said. “Because this isn’t who he is. This is way out of character for Josh Hader. I’ve lived with him the last four years. And not once has he said any of those behind closed doors to myself, or anyone who is close to him.
“Looking at those tweets, he’s come a long way. Obviously, you can see the growth. If you believe people can change for the worst, then you believe they can change for the best. Looking at those tweets, Josh Hader has definitely changed for the best.’’
It’s up to Hader now to determine how he’s viewed for the rest of his career. He’ll be under a microscope. Fans will taunt him. They’ll troll him on Twitter. He might even get threats.
The Brewers and Major League Baseball have no initial plans to have extra security for Hader, unlike when Atlanta Braves closer John Rocker was suspended two weeks for his racist and homophobic comments in 2000. Hader was advised to stay off Twitter. They told Hader to be careful because now the whole world is watching.
“I think those comments he made seven years ago are inexcusable,’’ Brewers All-Star left fielder Christian Yelich said. “You can’t say anything other than that. I think he knows that. I think everybody on the team knows that.
“It was a surprise because everything you’ve known about the guy, all the interactions you’ve had, there’s been no sign of anything like that. But it’s something that happened and had to be addressed.
“Where we’re at as a society, we’re far past that. I think he understands that. He regrets it.’’
Certainly, he should be forever indebted to center fielder Lorenzo Cain, one of four African-Americans on the Brewers, who was the first to come to his defense. Jesus Aguilar, a Venezuelan, sent out tweets in support of Hader. And Phillips choked up talking about Hader’s pain.
“It’s always tough to see a grown man cry,” Phillips said. “You could see the sincerity and hear the sincerity in his voice. He’s very upset. Today was big for him. A sincere apology was what was needed. You could in his voice he’s very, very, very sorry. He apologized to all of us.
“From here, it’s just moving forward, as tough as it’s going to be. It’s going to hurt. It’s going to suck. And people aren’t going to see past this, especially when we go on the road.
“Fans are going to show hate towards Josh Hader, that’s just how it is, unfortunately. I don’t know how he’s going to handle it. Obviously, accept people are going to hate him.
“He’s going to have to continue to show remorse, like he has, like he will.’’
Bean, who spent two hours with Hader undergoing diversity training, says that Hader fully embraced the sessions. He volunteered to speak to young players in the Arizona Fall League. He’s willing to participate in further training and initiatives.
“He was really looking to me for some guidance, mostly to convey that’s not who he is,’’ Bean said. “The context of those tweets is tough. But those happened a long time ago. I was really convinced after a couple of hours together today that his experience as an athlete, in an integrated and diverse environment, has created the person he is today.
“This is a young man who is in a tremendous amount of pain. I sympathize for him tremendously. But I was really proud of him today.
“The more I see, the more I see he just wants to be part of something bigger than him.’’
It’s up to Hader how he’ll be viewed the rest of his career, but forgiveness takes time, and it’s perfectly OK if we’re not quite ready.