The other day I was listening to sports radio and the hosts were arguing about what to do with New York Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold. Do you throw him in the fire, giving him the starting job from game one of his rookie year? Do you give the job to an experienced older player and let Darnold sit back and learn? Each one of them made valid points and could claim history on their side. They didn’t know it, but each side was arguing for one of the most important tenants in a Journey to Greatness.
One camp says that if you have a rookie quarterback who’s got the skill to be Great someday, teams should let him suffer a few bumps and bruises on the job. Just let him learn on the fly. There's no better place to learn than being in the fire. Right? Then there's a whole camp of folks who say it’s best if young talent learns from the sidelines for a little bit, so they can patiently observe and ask questions.
The other night I saw something incredible. The Chicago Cubs were playing the Washington Nationals and it was the bottom of the 9th, two outs, three men on, with the go-ahead run at bat. The Nationals were up 3-0, and I was about to turn off the game because the Cubs put in David Bote, a 25-year-old rookie who was only playing his 34th professional baseball game, as a pinch hitter.
To my amazement, on a 2-2 count, Bote connected with the ball, sending it sailing towards the center field wall. He knew it was a home run. Unfortunately, in his excitement, Bote committed an unforgivable sin.
He flipped the bat. If you’re not a baseball fan, that means that he didn’t just drop the bat after hitting the ball, he did so with a little pizazz.
Bote broke one of those silly, unwritten rules that seem to plague baseball. To baseball purists, it is disrespectful to flip the bat out of your hand when you hit a home run. Watching the replay and listening to his side of the story, I don’t think Bote meant to be disrespectful. He was just so excited. As he ran around the bases, his arms outstretched in victory, I’m sure it never occurred to him that in less than 12 hours he would be apologizing for his celebration.
A rookie hitting a grand slam to win the game in the 9th inning, with two outs, deserves more than the quiet, staid celebration expected by the purists of the game. It’s a moment kids fantasize about when they’re pretending to be pro ball players in their backyard. It deserves a big celebration because celebrations matter to the morale and culture of a team.
The best teams celebrate their victories.
Sean Newcomb was just one out away on Sunday from becoming only the 15th Atlanta Braves pitcher to throw a no-hitter. Then a two-out single in the ninth by Chris Taylor of the Dodgers broke up his bid. After the game, he fielded the standard questions you would expect after almost reaching such an achievement. But 30 minutes later, Newcomb emerged from the locker room to answer a wholly different set of questions.
This time about his social media history.
Back in 2011 and 2012, Newcomb tweeted a racial epithet and several other of his tweets included gay slurs. The 25-year-old pitcher was just a senior in high school at the time, but he had to answer for his actions all the same. "I just wanted to apologize for any insensitive material," Newcomb told the press. "It was a long time ago, six or seven years ago, saying some stupid stuff with friends. I know I've grown a lot since then. I didn't mean anything by it. It was just something stupid I did a long time ago, and I didn't mean anything by it, for sure."
When Newcomb says, “I didn’t mean anything by it,” that is disingenuous at best. Of course, he meant something, he posted it. Did he really not consider that using that kind of language was wrong in some way? No, what he really meant was that, at the time, he thought that his language and actions on social media didn’t matter. At 18 years old, he didn’t envision a world where his lack of sense would be put on display and rob him of a pretty special moment of professional glory.
Eventually, as Newcomb learned under the bright lights, our actions on social media catch up with us.
Ghosts of Social Past is not just a problem for Newcomb, it’s haunting people across sports, politics, and entertainment. Just in the last month, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Josh Hader and Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner had to apologize recently for their offensive “teenage tweets.” Inappropriate tweets brought down former Congressman Anthony Wiener. Even big Hollywood directors aren’t immune. James Gunn, director of the $1.6 Billion (and counting) Guardians of the Galaxy franchise was removed from the third installment because of some exceedingly questionable and inappropriate tweets commenting on pedophilia and rape.