Regular readers will recall that a couple of months ago (August 15 to be exact), I went after Chad Johnson, Robert Griffin III, and Mohamed Massaquoi for stupid things that each had said/done. Johnson was coming off the head-butting incident with his wife, Griffin had uttered the word “retarded” in a post-game conference, and Massaquoi decided Pat Shurmer is too old to be cool. Had Massaquoi gone after Shumrmer’s coaching abilities, I might have agreed with him, but he was picking on Shurmer for being too old to get “Twiter.”
Which brings us to today’s column, and my assertion that maybe some players should not be allowed to use Twitter.
Let me start with a disclaimer, before Patriots’ fans start sounding off. I have been a Patriots’ fan far longer than most of you have been alive. I was born in 1963 and became a Patriots’ fan in 1975. That means I have been religiously following the Patriots for 37 of my 49 years. I suffered through all of the dark times with the team and the fans in the 1970s, watched our team reach the Super Bowl in the 1980s only to get blown out by the Bears, and then to return a decade later and lose what was a winnable Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers. I watched as Bill Parcells threw his fit and went the Jets, and then endured three years of Pete Carroll being a nice guy but an ineffective head coach before Bill Belichick took the reins and turned everything around. He was the person who helped Robert Kraft realize the dream he had when purchasing the team, and the Patriots’ have enjoyed nearly unparalleled success during the Belichick era.
So for those of you who may disagree with what I am about to write, you should probably resist the urge to call me a “bandwagon fan” or otherwise impugn my loyalty to the organization. I am as loyal to the laundry as anyone is, but when I see players acting stupidly, I will call it out. And when those players are Patriots, I will take personal offense, because that is not what the Patriots’ organization is known for, nor what it expects from its players and coaches.
With that said, let’s move on to our not-so-illustrious winner of the newly named Just Shut ‘Yer Mouth Award.
Brandon Spikes, New England Patriots
To offer some back story, last year Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski was engaged in a conversation with his brother Chris via Twitter. At one point in the conversation, Gronk referred to something his brother had said as “that’s so gay”, a not uncommon insult in our society. I (and presumably others) tweeted back to Gronk that the use of the term wasn’t cool, and I noted it did not represent the Patriots well. Gronk did not respond to me personally, but did immediately remove the tweet and end the discussion. I must admit I was a little ticked at Gronk, but was also willing to chalk it up to Gronk being young and not completely understanding how his words mattered. Yes, it was a conversation with his brother, but he was choosing to have it in a forum he knew was being viewed by many thousands of people. Bad choice, but Gronk learned, and I have never seen another tweet like that from him again; he got it.
Enter Brandon Spikes. Yesterday he thought he was being funny when he posted the following tweet:
I’m homophobic just like I’m arachnophobic.I have nothing against homosexuals or spiders but I’d still scream if I found one in my bathtub !
On the whole, this comment is not necessarily an anti-gay slur, but it certainly suggests a particular perspective on the part of Mr. Spikes. I should note that while Spikes is known to be a fiercely-hitting linebacker for the Pats, he is widely regarded off the field as a nice guy and gentleman. He is also a frequent jokester on Twitter, and many of his jokes are considered funny but offensive. But judging from some of his other tweets, I also know him to be socially aware, whether he is posting on it being national Stop Bullying Month, or noting inappropriate comments of a legislator in Arkansas on the issue of slavery. My point is that Spikes isn’t stupid. I can appreciate that he thinks (as he later wrote) that this was just a joke, but perhaps Spikes can begin to appreciate that the subject matter of the joke was wholly unnecessary.
Some of the responses to his tweet were very direct.
From Tyler Taake:
Gay jokes, how clever…remember you are a rode model for kids around the world. October is also anti-bullying month.
From Alden Morris:
Your homophobic jokes make me as a New England Patriots fan for most of my life ashamed. I hope the Patriots suspend you.
Its a game that represents a product of integrity making homophobic jokes as a professional is a disgrace to that product.
My own tweet to Spikes was direct but not insulting:
Really dude? Love you as a player, but kill the joke-telling. (Note: Here is a screen shot of the Tweet, captured after Spikes protected his account)
My point in making that comment was to get Spikes to consider whether or not the joke that he thought was funny really needed to be told in the Twitter environment.
Spikes’ reaction to my tweet suggested otherwise:
Bite me? Really?
Gronk at least had the good sense to learn from tweeting about gays. Check in with him about that.
Predictably, many of the tweets were highly supportive of Spikes’ ability to make that comment and to not conform to the “pc” agenda, and those of us who were critical must be “haters”. But let’s look at the quality of that crowd, shall we?
One direct reply to me came from Brad (BradGeez23):
shu up you gay rat
Wow… how can you argue with logic like that?
Here’s news for you, Mr. Spikes; if that is the quality of the person you are being defended by in this instance, you might want to reconsider the company you keep, or at least the content of the messages that you post in a public forum.
This incident just confirms my belief that the NFL is not ready for gay players to “come out” in a public way, despite the hopeful and well-intentioned wishes of Brendon Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe. There is not only open hostility and judgment in NFL locker rooms and among the fan base, but also the equally destructive under current of joking that either reinforces intolerance or that reinforces the idea that it’s ok to joke publicly about a subordinated group of people in our society.
For those who see this as an issue of free speech, yes Mr. Spikes has the right to say what he thinks and believes. But what most people fail to point out after making a free speech claim is that Mr. Spikes also has to now face the consequences of his communication. And telling that joke, as a public representative of the New England Patriots, invites an entirely different level of scrutiny and accountability than if the same joke was tweeted by a private citizen speaking on his or her own behalf and without a visible affiliation to his or her employer. Freedom to speak does not equal freedom to speak without consequences.
To be clear, though not that it matters, I don’t have a personal stake in this fight. I am not gay and have no idea what it means to be gay. But being committed to a world that is socially just means fighting for what is what is right for all in society, not just for those who benefit from privilege. I don’t have to have a personal stake in this to speak out publicly when I perceive that a public figure (which Mr. Spikes is) is using his public profile as a representative of a professional organization to communicate a poor joke about gays. Mr. Spikes, I ask you to substitute the words “black guys” for “homosexuals”, put the words in a tweet from a white guy, and ask yourself how you would feel.
It is my intent to communicate this article both to Mr. Spikes and to the Patriots’ organization. It is my hope that Mr. Spikes will reconsider whether or not this comment was consistent with his representation of the New England Patriots’ organization, and that he will correct his course on this unfortunate event. I would hope that Mr. Spikes would do this on his own rather than at the behest of the organization, but in any event I believe Mr. Spikes owes an apology not only for the comment, but for his reaction to the fans who took him to task. I am also extending a direct and personal offer to Mr. Spikes to respond on this site, without editing of any kind, so that he can broadcast any message that he would like to convey. I will update this post if he chooses to do so.
Mr. Spikes is young and still has lessons to learn about being a public figure, and for that I am willing to extend my forgiveness as a fan if he can accept responsibility for his actions. If not, Mr. Spikes will simply serve as an unfortunate confirmation of stereotypes that exist about professional athletes. I hope that Mr. Spikes recognizes this choice and acts accordingly.
UPDATE (10/12/12) – Michael David Smith at Pro Football Talk has weighed in on this matter as well. Good article.