That didn’t take long. Less than 24 hours after Rashard Mendenhall tweets incomprehensibly about Osama bin Laden, there are, predictably, calls for the Steelers to cut him. I didn’t see the tweet until this morning, after reader Israel asked via Twitter if “Ya think #34′s comments are enough to get him booed at home opener?”
“Just saw it. First sentence is reasonable enough, but he should’ve stopped there. Now we’ll be hearing about this forever.”
My feelings haven’t changed; it’s certainly fair to ask “What kind of person celebrates death?” Although the obvious answer — Osama bin Laden — apparently didn’t occur to Mendenhall as he approached his 140-character limit and before he hit send.
Mendenhall’s tweet continues: “It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak.” That’s not entirely true. I’m guessing all of us have heard bin Laden’s voice; he’s periodically released messages to his followers and the infidels over the years, it’s just that most of us don’t speak Arabic. Whatever, even if bin Laden was born without vocal chords, it’s pretty easy to figure out why people hate the guy. He was sort of a dick — and worse — a mass murderer. I never heard Hitler speak, either, but that’s a leap of faith I feel quite comfortable making.
But it’s not like I’m making a profound point here, one that might cause otherwise rational folks to reevaluate their beliefs. We’re talking about a from-outta-nowhere tweet from a professional athlete who happens to play for the Steelers.
If this had been Ochocinco or, hell, the back-up running back for the Ottawa Rough Riders, I’m reading the tweet, thinking “huh, that’s weird,” and moving on with my day. Which is what I did when I first saw Mendenhall’s words. It’s just that now, after Twitter has weighed in, and Art Rooney II was forced to issue a statement that can be boiled down to 11 words — “I have no f—— clue what Rashard was talking about. Seriously.” — I feel obligated to point out what should be obvious:
We could’ve done without that.
Mendenhall’s belief system condemns murder. I think that holds for most of us, too, although we’re willing to make exceptions when it comes to people like bin Laden. Apparently, Mendenhall doesn’t make that distinction. And that’s his right.
Five years ago, he might have expressed those sentiments to his girlfriend or his pastor or his teammates. Now, anybody with Wi-Fi and a little notoriety can announce their thoughts — literally — to the world. This is great for things like “Turns out, that asteroid is going to miss Earth after all! #armageddonavoided #unshitbritches”, but problematic when discussing politics, religion or in Rashard’s case, both.
There’s also something else lost in all this: Mendenhall’s a professional athlete. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold him accountable for his words, just that, you know, he’s a professional athlete. Also not helping: he’s 23.
When I was 23, I was living in Boston, freshly dumped by my college girlfriend (we’re still friends!), and spending most of my free time getting drunk and trying to get laid (wildly successful on the former, not so much on the latter). I knew enough about social issues to sound like an idiot if the conversation went beyond a sentence. Rashard’s tweet was three sentences.
All this reminded me of something I wrote nearly four years ago, when Clinton Portis said Michael Vick could do whatever he wanted on his own property, even if was illegal. (Portis clarified his remarks a few days later because, well, that’s what happens when you let anybody say anything into a microphone in the first place.)
Here’s what I wrote on May 22, 2007:
I, like everybody — including Vick, probably — thought Portis’ comments were dumb. But all the mock outrage is a bit much. Portis is a 26-year-old professional athlete. Neither his age nor his profession is an excuse for what he said, but he’s a football player. He’s not a legislator — no laws will be passed supporting dogfighting (not unless Vick hires the right lobbying firm, anyway) — he’s just a guy in his mid-20s who also happens to be very, very rich. For some reason in this country, if you have money, you’re supposed to have thoughts on every news story that comes across the wire.
Whatever you think of Bruce Willis — and I’m agnostic — he made a similar point about Hollywood actors who love to burden us with their often inane opinions on issues they deem important. The only difference is that the media sought Portis out. It’s not like he held a press conference to announce his bid for presidency and, oh, by the way, “I’m pro-killing dogs in the most inhumane way possible.” Though I suspect he’d still get some votes … and I might even support him if he ran as Southeast Jerome.
My point: Rashard’s tweet is indefensible, but let’s not act like this was Tomlin or Rooney. It was a 23-year-old kid.
Stupid as hell? Without a doubt. Will he be issuing an apology or clarification? Might be a good idea.
But he ain’t getting cut for it, nor should he. So let’s stop with that talk, please. Rashard, in general, is a thoughtful dude, even if a little weird. In the future, though, any opinions he might have on U.S. foreign policy should be kept to himself, or at the very least shared with those closest to him. Like, say, this guy.