Shocking news into FourthAnd140.com: A professional athlete is in trouble for a tweet.
In other news, the sky is blue.
If you hadn’t heard, Pittsburgh Steelers star running back Rashard Mendenhall stuck his finger in the country’s celebratory cake following the death of Osama bin Laden earlier this week.
Mr. Mendenhall’s argument started off sound but quickly drifted to strange:
What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side…
Later, in another tweet, Mendenhall curiously suggested a potential 9/11 conspiracy. (The tweet has since been deleted):
I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style.
Perhaps Mr. Mendenhall wanted to be known for something other than one of the more costly fumbles in Super Bowl history. OK, that was a cheap shot from a bitter Steelers fan, but what’s the upside to stirring such a steaming pot of trouble just days after Navy SEALS killed the FBI’s most wanted man?
To his credit, Mr. Mendenhall advocates using social media tools – like Twitter – to start conversations with people. His profile even boasts “Conversationalist and professional athlete.” It’s refreshing to see given the self-promotion, self-centeredness and other baloney pro athletes consider good social content.
The problem for Mr. Mendenhall, however, is Twitter is not the place to share lengthy, complicated viewpoints. You pretty much get 140 characters, and that’s it. Conversations are short, succinct and rarely deep. Timelines change by the second.
Mr. Mendenhall’s follow-up was much better, even if far fewer people saw it. Using his personal blog, he wrote a longer, aptly titled post called “Clarification.” In it, he used no less than 510 words and 2,800 characters to apologize (which was necessary due to the odd 9/11 comments) and clarify his faith-based viewpoint. “This controversial statement was something I said in response to the amount of joy I saw in the event of a murder,” he wrote. “I don’t believe that this is an issue of politics or American pride; but one of religion, morality, and human ethics.”
I saw similarly themed tweets and Facebook posts shouting down the giddiness behind the killing of another person (even if that individual is responsible for horrific acts of terrorism). I had similar conversations with my children, as I tried to use our own faith to explain to them why so many people were happy someone had been killed. Many of my friends referenced Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote:
Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
I commend Mr. Mendenhall on the passion in his blog post, and for offering it up to his fans and followers. Most athletes would have deleted the tweet, apologized and moved on. Mr. Mendenhall thoughtfully quoted scripture and backed up his beliefs with reasoning and passion. He just did everything in reverse, taking advantage of Twitter’s ease and speed to make a complicated point about violence and his opposition to it.
In today’s break-neck speed of social media, it’s usually the original tweet that sticks with people. They seldom remember the follow-up tweets. Or the apology. Or the clarification. They’re not as quotable or controversial.
It’s been a costly week for Mr. Mendenhall. But as a Steeler fan, I’ll still root for him on Sundays and follow him on Twitter the rest of the time. He just needs some coaching up on Twitter (DM me, Rashard!), not to mention the high-and-tight rule for running backs.
The social media lesson here is simple. If you have to clarify a controversial position on Twitter, you’re better off using a blog or other longer-form vehicle to make your point.
Unfortunately for Mr. Mendenhall, there is no Clarification Button on Twitter.
Thanks for being a fan.