Chris Douglas-Roberts ignites firestorm regarding Twitter comments
Social media has fundamentally changed the ways in which people interact with each other, and athletes have taken to these new mediums just as most everyone else has. Outlets such as Facebook and Twitter have allowed athletes and fans a more intimate setting within which to interact, and from engaging the fans to creating a brand, it appears athletes will not be shying away from the tech world anytime soon.
But what happens when an athlete says something that is not popular on one of these social media platforms?
On May 1, President Barack Obama announced that the United States had killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Afterward, Chris Douglas-Roberts, who plays for the Milwaukee Bucks, posted a series of comments to his Twitter account, questioning the celebrations that many Americans spontaneously broke into upon hearing the news of bin Laden’s death. The remarks that sparked the controversy were as follows:
Those comments were almost immediately followed up with comments such as these, also posted on Twitter:
Inevitably, Douglas-Roberts was forced to clarify and defend his original posts. He first responded via Twitter, posting among other things:
Douglas-Roberts then commented in the New York Daily News about his Twitter posts, saying, “We just looked like the Afghan people, a decade later. That’s not what we should be doing, celebrating with beers and all that. That’s just me.”
Douglas-Roberts clarified several times that his remarks were not meant as anti-American, just that he was against the war and against what he considered senseless loss of life. A number of people rushed to his defense, arguing that criticizing someone for exercising his First Amendment rights to free speech was in itself un-American.
But the bigger picture behind all the backlash is how society seems to prefer its athletes — silent.
There was a time when athletes used to speak their minds and make statements that transcended the usual post-game media questions. Jackie Robinson helped integrate baseball in 1947; hard to imagine a bigger statement than that. Same goes for Earl Lloyd, the NBA’s first African-American player, who debuted in 1950. In the 1960s, Muhammad Ali was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War. In 1981, Lloyd Bernard Free had his first name legally changed to World, thus becoming World B. Free. The list goes on and on.
But then it seemed that the big-name athletes chose to keep their perspectives to themselves. Michael Jordan routinely shied away from making his political views known for fear that it could affect his sponsorship deals. And many influential athletes followed his route, playing it safe rather than speaking their minds.
Then in 2003, Steve Nash came along and stirred the pot again. Before the outset of the War in Iraq, Nash wore a T-shirt to All-Star Weekend that said “No War. Shoot for Peace.” The shirt sparked similar reactions to what Douglas-Roberts received a few days ago. David Robinson, formerly of the U.S. Navy, even subtly suggested that Nash, a Canadian, go back to where he came from.
Nash would clarify his stance in an ESPN report at the time, saying, “From the start, I spoke out just because I don't want to see the loss of life. People are mistaking anti-war as being unpatriotic.”
Nash’s statement against the War in Iraq served to remind everyone that athletes are people too. They have their own thoughts and feelings and beliefs on issues. They are not simply robots programmed to play a sport for the enjoyment of the masses and then shut off once the lights go out. Athletes think, just as everyone else does.
And now, in our modern society, every athlete can speak his or her mind directly to millions of people around the world. They no longer have to be star players given a platform like All-Star Weekend to express themselves. They can just Tweet their thoughts. The thoughts they share may be ones that people agree with or disagree with, ones that make us think or just make us laugh. But no matter what category they fall into, the fact that athletes can share parts of themselves with the fans should be celebrated, not derided. Because after all, isn’t it better knowing that our heroes are also regular people just like the rest of us and not just mindless automatons programmed to shoot a ball into a basket or hit a baseball as far as they can?
But for those of you who like less thought-provoking material from your athletes, here is Rudy Gay’s take on the death of bin Laden, taken from his Twitter feed: “ Ok so we killed Osama. Now all we have to do is find Waldo and Carmen San Diego! Then I will be impressed!!!!”
By: Eric Lorenz
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