Twitter Ethics, “Punching Down” Ethics: The Trevor Bauer Affair

The Pitcher And his Non-Fan

So it’s come to this. It isn’t enough to use past juvenile tweets as a means to shame and subordinate professional athletes. Now the sportswriting establishment is lobbying for teams to exercise control over their social media conduct and style even when no slurs or even alleged slurs are involved.

Trevor Bauer is an established major league starting pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, finally emerging a s star after many years of dreaded “potential.” He’s not a kid–he’s 27—but in his public dealings and image be appears to be about 14. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. He plays a kid’s game, and young sportswriters cheer players now who make faces, preen, trash talk and engage in extreme on-the-field celebrations. Dignity on the field is considered passe, a problem for baseball. Be out there! Show personality!

Ah, but some sportswriters have decided that they are the arbiters of what kind of eccentricities are acceptable, even off the field. For some reason, sports media like NBC Sports and ESPN have decided to pollute sports reporting with the unqualified declarations of woke and aspiring social justice warriors.  I know not why, unless it is part of the full immersion progressive indoctrination strategy that the news media has joined.

At NBC Sports, two baseball writers, Bill Baer and Craig Calcaterra, are such devoted leftist propagandists that any regular reader can predict their screeds before reading them. If the baseball page isn’t just lifting news unaccredited from other sites (MLB Trade Rumors, diligent, competent, and blissfully politics free, is the main victim), Baer or Calcaterra are making arguments that Rep. Oacsio-Cortez would endorse in a heartbeat. For example, they believe that it is travesty of justice that team owners aren’t willing to pay millionaire players what the players feel they “deserve” rather than what is prudent for the owners’ budgets and what makes sense based on reasonable assessments of a players’ value.

Recently Bill Baer decided to demand the Indians and MLB “do something” about Trevor Bauer. The full presumptuousness and arrogance of his argument cannot be appreciated without quoting him extensively, which I will do now, with periodic commentary. The post is headlined, “Indians, MLB need to take Trevor Bauer’s harassing tweets seriously.”

He begins by an unethical device called “poisoning the well,” using an irrelevant episode or accusation to pre-bias readers:

Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer is what we extremely online people call “extremely online” [which means] to inculcate oneself to Internet culture, including humor. Bauer exemplified this last year when he went to arbitration with the Indians. He wanted to file for $6.9 million, but …the right-hander was warned that the figure was too high and could result in him losing his case. He then wanted to file for $6,420,969.69. Why 69? As any teenager can tell you, it references a sexual position and that’s funny stuff on the Internet. Why 420? Well, that references April 20, or 4/20, a day of celebration for marijuana enthusiasts…Bauer started “The 69 Days of Giving” in which he would donate $420.69 daily to a different charity. On the 69th and final day, he pledged to donate $69,420.69 to a secret charity. So, that gives you a bit of a picture of Bauer’s personality and sense of humor. .

Oh, who cares? I love “offensive jokes” that have to be explained so people can find them offensive. The encomium that “if you detect a dog whistle, you’re the dog” seems apt here. Who, except geeks like Baer, look for coded drug and sex messages in salary demands? But Baer was just getting warmed up…

That was mostly fine until two days ago when Bauer responded to a critic on Twitter. The critic, a baseball fan named Nikki, wrote of Bauer, “My new least favorite person in all sports,” tagging Bauer’s Twitter account (@BauerOutage). Bauer responded, “Welcome to the fan club” and included a kiss emoji. If that was the start and end of it, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But Bauer persisted, repeatedly going after her. …Bauer also replied to Nikki’s tweets publically – direct replies can only be seen by those who follow both parties – which allowed all 134,000 of his followers to get in on the drama and chime in. Bauer was repeatedly inviting his fans to harass Nikki on his behalf, and they did. Nikki ended up temporarily deleting her account. Responding to a Bauer fan who criticized her for deleting, Nikki wrote, “Sorry I didn’t like being told to kill my self for 4 days straight. You’re right. I’m so soft.”

…Why is Bauer’s behavior wrong? Simply put, it’s because there’s a power imbalance and Bauer exploited that to harass a woman, a baseball fan. Even after the online fracas with Bauer, Nikki has only 600 followers. Only a handful of people would go to bat for Nikki, but even a tiny percentage of Bauer’s 134,000 followers going after Nikki constitutes a gross amount of abuse. Let’s say that only 0.5 percent got involved. That’s still 670 people — more than Nikki’s entire follower count. It’s tough to get an actual count of just how many people were in Nikki’s mentions as a result of her interactions with Bauer, but a cursory search shows it’s quite a lot.

In short, Bauer wielded his power – his fame and online influence – improperly and unfairly towards Nikki. He bullied her. It is also notable that Bauer chose to obsess this way over a female critic. He has never gone to this length to challenge a male critic.

Now that Bauer has gone Full Social Justice #MeToo Virtue-Signaling Avenger, let’s unpack this.

First, this isn’t “harassment” by any legal or ethical definition. The woman, who for all Bauer knew could have been  a dog, or President Trump, gratuitously attacked him, calling him in an early tweet, ” a professional athlete that tweets like a 16 year girl on her period.”  Should Bauer have taken the bait and engaged in a nasty exchange? It was unwise. It was imprudent. It was tit-for-tat. However, the playing field was Twitter, and the fan voluntarily engaged him on it. Baer’s argument makes no sense: he is arguing that a non-celebrity can attack a celebrity online and in social media, but if the celebrity strikes back in kind, it’s “punching down.”

Balderdash.

“Punching down” is unethical when there is  true imbalance of power and influence, when the one doing the punching down holds an office or position that requires exemplary conduct, and the “punching” was unprovoked. Bauer, however, isn’t President, or in Congress, or a college president, or a judge, or a Cardinal, or a Fortune 500 CEO. He’s a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians that I would guess 90% of the public outside of Ohio never heard of. He has no real “power,” and Baer’s idea that power is measured by one’s Twitter followers is ridiculous. Niki, whatever she is, consented to the engagement and didn’t like the heat, so when Bauer’s tweets got too nasty, she decided to strike back by #MeTooing him, reporting the pitcher to web muckraker Deadspin in hope that the progressive mob would exact dire vengeance. Cue Baer.

Bauer’s nemesis, Deadspin and Baer all played the hypocritical “Girl Card.” She tweeted to the pitcher in part,

Oh, it’s “girl” now, is it? So young, so innocent, so frail! If Bauer had called Nikki a “girl,” she, Deadspin and Baer would condemn him as sexist and condescending. On Twitter, races and genders, ages and positions, are all the same, equal.  To Nikki, Bauer was just a kind of famous Twitter user she thought would be fun to troll. To him, she was a Twitter user who decided to take him on. He treated her like an equal, which, in fact, she was. Bauer’s excessively aggressive attacks on Nikki were irresponsible and mean, but no more so because she was a “girl.”

Then Baer went deeper into the leftist grievance toolbox:

One of Bauer’s offenses was making a transphobic joke, which will need explaining for those who aren’t “extremely online.” Nikki wrote to Bauer, “Maybe you should act like the PROFESSIONAL you are, and like the 27 year old MAN you are, and not harass me for 14 hours. You are a horrible human.”

Bauer responded, “I identify as a 12 year old. This is 2019. You have to have empathy for my situation. Those are the rules”.

Bauer is referencing an Internet meme (specifically a “copypasta”) that started out as, “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter.” It’s meant specifically to discredit non-binary people, suggesting that one can identify as anything, like an attack helicopter, along with the various identities in the gender spectrum. Bauer, whose humor exactly lines up with those who would use this meme, understands the implication behind the joke. Bauer made hundreds of replies to people since the debacle started, but interestingly did not respond to FanGraphs writer Sheryl Ring, who is trans. Ring simply asked to have a conversation about why the comment “really isn’t an okay thing to say.

The joke of claiming to “identify” as something ridiculous that one obviously is not isn’t “transphobic,” nor is it “really isn’t an okay thing to say.” This is a classic example of the unethical progressive tactic of winning an arguments by declaring victory and pretending that it’s over. “I identify as a 12-year-old” has nothing to do with trans individuals at all! It fairly mocks white people who declare that they are black, men who declare that they are women, women who declare that they are men, and those who argue that “identifying” is all it should take to require the world to accept their new identity. Bauer could just as well have been referring to the lunatic who sued to be able to “identify” as 20 years younger. Since his comment involved age, why wouldn’t that be the assumption?

He also could have been simply stating fact: his conduct, as I already noted, is consistent with that of a child. I’ve used that same joke about “identifying” as something I’m not right here on Ethics Alarms. I was not being transphobic, and I’ve never heard of the Internet meme  “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter.”

Bauer concludes,

“There is a very easy line to tow when it comes to bullying and bigotry, and Bauer clearly crossed it. The Indians – already in constant hot water over the use of a racist caricature for a mascot – and MLB can’t both try to appeal to fans of diverse backgrounds and do nothing when players abuse their platforms to harass fans. Furthermore, the whole “he doesn’t represent us” defense is a cop-out. We just had a season in whichThere is a very easy line to tow when it comes to bullying and bigotry, and Bauer clearly crossed it. The Indians – already in constant hot water over the use of a racist caricature for a mascot – and MLB can’t both try to appeal to fans of diverse backgrounds and do nothing when players abuse their platforms to harass fans. Furthermore, the whole “he doesn’t represent us” defense is a cop-out. We just had a season in which Josh Hader, Sean Newcomb, Trea Turner, and Michael Kopech’s old tweets were dug up and they had to answer for them. They answered unsatisfactorily, but they were at least held to account in some small way, which is more than can be said for the Indians and MLB with Bauer. Josh Hader, Sean Newcomb, Trea Turner, and Michael Kopech’s old tweets were dug up and they had to answer for them. They answered unsatisfactorily, but they were at least held to account in some small way, which is more than can be said for the Indians and MLB with Bauer.”

Let’s see: wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, sort of right,, wrong,and wrong. I may have missed a couple:

  • Bauer engaged in neither bigotry nor bullying. Nikki could have blocked him on Twitter, and that would have been that. Saying he bullied her is like saying that a women who voluntarily listened to an obscene phone call without hanging up has been harassed. She initiated their exchange, and consented to its duration.
  • The Indian’s logo is a cartoon. It wasn’t intended as racist, and is no more racist that Homer Simpson is. The team got sick of fighting the same fight the Washington Redskins have been fighting, and gave up. Nobody cares, and nobody really cared about Chief Wahoo one way or the other.
  • Major League Baseball will appeal to diverse audiences based on the game on the field, not the Twitter habits of #2 starters. What garbage.
  • Bauer didn’t abuse his platform. This is what Twitter is. This is why I stopped using Twitter except to circulate links to posts here. I was attacked by a mob of obnoxious defense lawyers who took offense at a post that criticized a member of their club. I blocked them. Twitter, as I have noted here before, lowers one’s IQ by between 36 and 48 points on average. If you are brilliant, it won’t cripple you cognitively, but your jeopardy score will go down. If you aren’t brilliant—well, look at Trevor Bauer. Look at Bill Baer. Look at President Trump.
  • Baer is sort of right that the Indians can’t say that Bauer doesn’t represent them, but that only means that he has an obligation not to embarrass his employers by wrongful public conduct. Bauer has a right to be a jerk within reasonable boundaries on social media. I don’t advise it, but again, elite athletes tend to be jerks.  This episode was and should have been obscure and without consequence: he didn’t break any laws or hurt anybody, other than expose the extent of his jerkiness. It’s none of the Indians’ business, except that baer et al. decided to show their own influence by trying to hurt Bauer. If Baer can cost him a few million in salary, I’m sure that will make his year.
  • I wrote several posts about the unethical use of those players’ old tweets to make them grovel at the throne of political correctness, and Bauer and Calcaterra were cheerleading their mistreatment. They should not have had to answer for the tweets at all.
  • Leave Bauer alone.

Sure, I think someone should take him aside and explain that being a public figure online requires more judgment and restraint. In sports and entertainment, however, there is a thin line between charming eccentricity and sanction able  misconduct. Being a mere jerk off the field eliminates the charm, but it doesn’t cross that line.

 

 

15 thoughts on “Twitter Ethics, “Punching Down” Ethics: The Trevor Bauer Affair

  1. I used to enjoy following sports. As a kid I thought people like Brooks Robinson, Johnny Unitas and so many others were those we should try to emulate.

    No more. Owners, players, media, sponsors have destroyed the conceptual notions of fair play, gracious winners and losers, and most importantly, community.

    I have little use for any of it anymore. Sometimes a nostalgic look back in time may actually be more progressive from a social perspective.

  2. Yet another example of why keeping your big fat mouth shut is the wisest plan (and the one least often followed).

    The average person is too impulsive not to speak, but, unfortunately, now come equipped with bigger megaphones.

    -Jut

    • Last line means more than it says: the people on Twitter and other social media taking out their frustrations and revenges on every target that comes their way. It only takes a few seconds out of their day – about as much time as it would take to say it aloud – to type out something vicious that punches up (which can cause much more pain and damage than punching down!) and “Enter” it down the online garbage chute into any place handy. And walk away about their business. These are not sociopaths or unusually abnormal people: they are . . . just . . . average. With big “megaphones.” You get full credit for that one, Jut Gory.

  3. While being quiet would have been simpler, he has a right to be a jerk as much as the critic is being. (I suspect some of the old time greats would have outpaced him on Twitter) Making a subtly offensive donation, will probably leave sone charities ‘laughing all the way to the bank.’ I don’e see a problem with having a dual purpose in charity, how many give charity without hoping for bonus points in reputation, tax credit,or some other less ‘pure’ reason? I won’t excuse an athlete for cheating or crimes, but all these reporters should get to work and cover real crimes, injuries, and who has the lead standing. Harping on rud tweets is low hanging lazy reporting.

  4. Dignity on the field is considered passe, a problem for baseball. Be out there! Show personality!

    Alas, this is true for all sports these days. Emotion! The new One Ring. We wants it. We needs it. Must have the precious.

    First, this isn’t “harassment” by any legal or ethical definition.

    Right. By definition, it is constitutionally protected free speech. That wouldn’t matter to a private employer, but that’s what it is.

    He has no real “power,” and Baer’s idea that power is measured by one’s Twitter followers is ridiculous.

    Not just ridiculous — genuinely dangerous, and more evidence of the Left’s hostility to free speech based on perceived inequity rather than true power.

    The joke of claiming to “identify” as something ridiculous that one obviously is not isn’t “transphobic,” nor is it “really isn’t an okay thing to say.” This is a classic example of the unethical progressive tactic of winning an arguments by declaring victory and pretending that it’s over.

    And it deserves to be laughed off the Internet every time.

    This Baer has engaged in what I consider classic moonbattery, driven by what appears to me to be profound political insanity. What if we applied his theory to Twitter influencers (like, say, Perez Hilton) on his side of the argument.

    I bet that would tight his ass up real quick.

    • The Twitter follower theory creepily mimics the “Black Mirror” episode where one’s status in society is determined by your level of social media followers and how much they “like” what you do.

      • Indeed. What never ceases to amaze me is the importance we have placed on social media celebrity. The whole thing is creepy to me, and represents the lengths people will go to in order to achieve some measure of fame.

    • I use it for news for a weekly article, but I haven’t tweeted anything in at least four years. I open it only on Tuesday for about an hour, and ignore anything not directly related to my subject.

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