Mendenhall Should Make His Twitter Account Private

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?”

My response:

“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.

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  • SteelerBill

    Ryan….I was told that he deleted one of Tweets regarding the Towers….I haven’t checked to confirm, but just an FYI for everyone.

    Listen, Rashard is a kid, but he does need to know a bit better that you do have the right to publish your opinion for the world to see and the world has a right to take issue with what you said…

  • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan

    SB,

    Eddie B. mentioned some of those tweets this morning in the P-G.

  • Anonymous

    Cutting him would be silly and no one in his right mind would consider that reasonable.

    Booing him, on the other hand, is quite in order.

    I misplaced the link, but even Art II found it necessary to question the tweet.

  • Mbyrd3807

    thats bs. rashard shouldnt be considered american for saying something like this

    • Cols714

      Being an American means you are allowed to say stuff like this.

    • STEELERSWEEKLY

      MY MARINE SON JUST CAME BACK FROM AFGAN SO WE COULD SAY THINGS WE WANT TO SAY. YOU MAY NOT LIKE OR AGREE BUT MENDENHALL HAS AS MUCH RIGHT TO BE AN AMERICAN AS YOU OR I.

  • ROb D

    It had a little bit of 9/11 truther ..a dash of “turn the other cheek and love your enemy” from the Christian way of thought, and a lot of just plain innaccuracy.

    Do you know that there are kids in my building who have no idea who Osama Bin Laden is? Many of them are 10 years old. It’s being lost to the sands of time just like everything else. Mendy sounds confused and kinda dumb here but he’s an insulated, very rich athlete who may feel infallible.

    I remember when I first heard about Twitter and thought “this is going to be a great thing for sports! And also,,potentially a source of bombshells on a daily basis”..no filter, no editing.just stream of consciousness to the world.

    I don’t think its that big a deal but you know…it’s a juicy quote to lambaste him with for people who make their living feeding on “controversial opinions” like Jim Rome to take up. He must have run the infamous REggie White dissertation on race a thousand times.

  • Anonymous

    My totally unsolicited take:

    The issue is not “he has a right to say what he said.” Of COURSE he does. That doesn’t mean anyone has to like it. I think that Mendenhall is making two separate statements.

    The first statement is that he feels it is wrong to celebrate the death of anyone. Full stop. I don’t agree with the conclusion personally, since what is being celebrated isn’t the taking a human’s life, it’s the satisfaction of some semblance of justice finally being done and relief that he is not alive to do more evil. But arriving at that personal conclusion took some introspection on my part. My instinctual first reaction was actually similar to Mendenhall’s that it is wrong or at least distasteful to celebrate a death. And I certainly cannot fault or condemn someone for coming up with that conclusion.

    The second statement is one of doubt. Mendenhall says we haven’t heard what bin Laden had to say and expresses doubt about the structural causes of the buildings’ collapse. I think this is a much less defensible position. We have heard what bin Laden had to say; he publicized his actions and reasons for the whole world to see. We definitely judge him having heard him speak. As for the collapse, truther arguments notwithstanding, the evidence for the historically accepted position supports that position beyond a reasonable doubt.

    My reaction to this part of the tweets was initially anger. But then I realized something. Mendenhall was all of 13 when the attacks happened. To me it’s something from my young adulthood, and when it happened I was able to bring an adult’s reason, experience, and emotional maturity to bear when hearing news of the events and the arguments in their aftermath. Mendenhall was a child barely in a position to comprehend them. If a supposed authority told you something as a 13 year old child would you have the wherewithal to challenge it? And if you had had little cause even to consider the topic since then, what views would you now hold? Mendenhall is wrong. He expresses a stance that I and others find offensive. But I can’t attribute to malice what I think is rightfully the result of ignorance.

    • GlennW

      Mendenhall is no longer 13 years old; he’s 23. Since 9/11 he’s grown up and has had ample opportunity to research the matter and then contemplate upon it (and in fact the crux of his post very much suggests that he had thought about it in some religious or spiritual terms). He went to college at an institution of higher learning. Mendenhall is free to express his beliefs, but that’s what they are– his beliefs, not some fleeting thoughts that just crossed his mind. The excuse of some fairly innocent “ignorance” or even immaturity is far too easily granted in such instances of intolerance.

      Then there’s the whole business of the Twitter phenomenon. The famous athlete who sets up and uses an account has consciously made the decision that his thoughts and opinions are of such importance that they should be publicly shared with thousands. The athlete isn’t simply being caught off guard in a moment of indiscretion; he’s knowingly broadcasting his opinions– people need to know what I think! So make no mistake, Mendenhall knew exactly what he was doing…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000956088193 Darrell Bryant

    well said

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000956088193 Darrell Bryant

    well said

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/100857546184516732260 Dr Obvious

    You’re exactly right. Mendenhall’s 23, and no one has yet told him that he’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. He’s hardly unique in that regard. I usually just roll my eyes at his faux-intellectualism on twitter, and the fact that he confuses truther-ism with critical thinking doesn’t really surprise me.

    But I don’t care. It’s nice to have personal stories like Aaron Smith’s or Batches’ (either one), but it’s not really necessary for me to enjoy the game.

  • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan

    Rashard responds. Frankly, it’s enough for me although I could have done without the “I was only trying to get people to think” bit. That sounds like something John Steigerwald would say.

    • Canadian Steeler

      Yeah, I don’t know if this is a subject which needs ‘to get people to think’, at least in the sense he’s talking about. Whatever he says might not be enough for anyone at this point, but his questioning of ‘celebrating death’ isn’t too different than this LA times article.

      http://www.latimes.com/news/columnists/la-et-onthemedia-20110504,0,4165657.column?track=rss&utm_source=latimes.com&utm_medium=twitter

    • GlennW

      It’s convenient that Mendenhall only highlighted and responded to the *least* controversial– and actually totally defensible– point he had made. It’s hard to see how anyone could “misconstrue” (this word along with its companion phrase “taken out of context” being my biggest pet peeve with all of celebrity damage control) the comments he made about the towers being destroyed. Still, it was thoughtful that Rashard responded with something, well, fairly thoughtful…

  • STEELERSWEEKLY

    Martin Luther King, Jr. said – “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. 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.”

  • http://www.expensiccino.com Carl Natale

    I agree with Ryan that it’s unlikely Mendenhall will be cut because of his remarks. Although considering that a team owner works for the State Department and the severe public reaction, it’s a possibility. So he should consider himself lucky that there’s a lockout in place. The Steelers couldn’t cut him if they wanted to.

    Once the NFL can get back to the business of building teams, this will have blown over. Mendenhall will get a lecture or two. And the team will move on. It’s important to remember that this kid responds to tough love. (Not memorizing the playbook? Sit this game out.

    ) So he will take the “feedback” and focus on football.

    It also helps that he lost his Champion endorsement. No reason to pile on. Hopefully he will have a great season that earns him a new deal or two.

    Does anyone know who Mendenhall’s agent is? He should be looking for someone to take over his social media efforts, and I’m available. Although he probably will go with whoever is handling Ward’s social media. That’s how you do it right.