Athletes have never been more accessible than they are right now. They’re on social media, just like us. They ‘gram, tweet, TikTok, just like us. They express themselves, just like us.
They’re also only human, just like us.
These people might be professional athletes, but they’re not perfect, on or off the field. And being online, they open themselves up to all the love and hate that comes their way. It’s always been an unavoidable part of the job description, but now it’s not just reporters in the papers, it’s anyone with internet access. Imagine going to work every day, and having your job performance analyzed not just by your supervisor in your office, but by millions of spectators who have nothing to do but pick you apart as you attempt to do your job.
I’m ashamed to say that in moments of frustration, I’ve been less than kind online about athletes’ performances. I’ve never come anywhere near this level of harassment, but I’ve said things I’m not proud of. Now I try to analyze the game in a way that is more understanding and patient. Because at the end of the day, I’m talking about a fellow person, not some robot wound up to perform for my enjoyment.
Sean Doolittle is a reigning World Series champion pitcher. He’s also a human being who currently happens to be struggling at his job. But Doolittle, like all athletes, is more than the game he plays. He is the kind of person who makes Baseball Twitter and this world a better place. During normal baseball seasons, he shops at independent bookstores in each city his team goes to for away games, and posts about them on social media to help increase patronage. He reads to young children at public libraries to promote child literacy. He is a thoughtful person who regularly advocates for players’ rights, as well as human rights. Doolittle and his wife Eireann have worked with refugees, LGBTQ, veterans, and many other groups. When he declined to visit the White House after the Nationals won the World Series last year, he did so politely, but firmly. He is a public advocate for mental healthcare, and was one of the most vocal players during the tense, toxic negotiations with MLB this spring. As the spouse of an immunocompromised person, he urged everyone to focus on health and safety protocols instead of money-grubbing. He continued to do so when baseball’s return was met with COVID-19 testing issues. But despite his obvious frustration with the situation, each tweet was eloquent, detailed, and polite.
Sean Doolittle has never been anything less than an intelligent, considerate, philanthropic person. By comparison, the trolls who have led him to deactivate his Twitter this weekend, are crude, hateful people who can barely string a cogent sentence together. But their lack of intelligence and conscience doesn’t change the fact that their words hurt.
Most of the comments I’ve seen today have expressed nothing but love and support for Doolittle, and outrage at the way people have treated him lately. But there are also dozens of comments like these:
Social media gives people the ability to say horrible things to and about their fellow human beings with few, if any consequences. It’s a coward’s game, to hide behind a screen and spew hatred. But having been on the receiving end many times myself, I know how much it can affect your peace of mind. Even if you know deep down that these people aren’t worth a second of your time, the torrent of vitriol starts to hurt after a while. Think about it: Doolittle already knows he’s not performing the way he should be, and he feels terrible about it. He’s said so himself, he’s not hiding or denying it. Why make a good person who is having a rough time feel even worse than they already do?
I hope that Doolittle deactivated because he knows that there is a lot more to a life lived offline, not because he felt proverbially run out of town. But either way, it’s a loss; the toxic world of social media need more people like Sean Doolittle, rays of light to break up the crushing darkness. And instead, people who probably couldn’t even strike out their own gym teacher are driving him away and by doing so, discouraging other thoughtful athletes from using their platforms. Sean Doolittle might have a hard time helping his team win games right now, but he’s not the loser here.
Photo: AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz