Re-framing our judgement of old, bad tweets by athletes

Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray won the Heisman Trophy over the weekend. Stories of his success as a quarterback and his future in the MLB were overshadowed by a different angle: homophobic tweets he posted more than six years ago. 

When Murray was 15, he tweeted defamatory homophobic language at his friends. Four of those tweets were still on his account Saturday night when the media dug into his social history, but have since been deleted.

Murray took to the platform to apologize:

This is not an unfamiliar storyline; a new generation of young professional athletes is entering the spotlight, and many of them once documented their naive thoughts and cringe-worthy judgement lapses on social media.

Just this past summer, racist and homophobic tweets that Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers wrote as a 17-year-old reappeared. In a statement, he said:

“There’s no excuse for what was said. I’m deeply sorry for what I’ve said, and it doesn’t reflect any of my beliefs going on now. I was young, immature and stupid, and there’s no excuses for what was said or what happened.”

A few of his teammates defended him:

Similarly, just before this year’s NFL draft, racist tweets from Josh Allen emerged. Buffalo Bills General Manager Brandon Beane talked with USA TODAY Sports about how the team handled the situation when the tweets came to light:

“Before we drafted him, he was honest. He just straight up said: ‘Dumb, stupid stuff. There’s no excuse for it. I own it. And it’s not who I am.’ We had done enough recon on him that we felt very comfortable. We just needed that clarity from him. He has come in and he didn’t hide from it. If anybody had any questions, they were welcome to approach him about it. I think they saw quickly who Josh Allen really is.”

So, what now? Do we dismiss bad tweets as old news and forgive these guys? We can’t just ignore what was said — it’s important to recognize that racist and homophobic language is offensive and unwelcome. But how do we reconcile that with the notion that maybe these guys really were just young and dumb? 

I think Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander has the right idea. In August, he told USA TODAY Sports:

“Coach mentioned that we were maybe going to draft him and that these tweets were out. I felt as a leader of this locker room, I had to set the tone, as far as saying: ‘He was 16. He was from a rural area in Fresno. I’m not going to judge him based on that.’ And then I talked to Eddie Yarbrough, who hadn’t heard anything like that since. The team hadn’t found anything, so I wasn’t going to judge him based on who he may have been in ignorance.”

I love that line: “I wasn’t going to judge him based on who he may have been in ignorance.”

We’ve all been in ignorance before. The world would be a weird, sad place if we all thought like 15 year olds (especially 15-year-old boys, I might add). And it would be incredibly disappointing if we all thought exactly how we did 6 years ago. 

The ultimate measurement of intellect and the very thing that makes us human is our ability to collect new information, experience new things and develop a deeper empathy that results in an evolution of our thoughts.

So yes, let’s talk about how ignorant those tweets were in hopes that hateful language becomes antiquated. But let’s shift our focus and celebrate Murray, Hader and Allen for admitting they were once ignorant, but have since been enlightened and changed for the better.

Because let’s face it — we all hope the years gone have changed us for the better.