By Michael Arceneaux
On a recent episode of ESPN’s First Take, the controversy surrounding newly-minted Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray and old, homophobic tweets he published as a teenager elicited an incensed response from the show’s anchors. Their condemnation was not towards Murray and the tweets, but towards the USA Today reporter who gave them national attention. The practice of digging up a public figure’s old tweets generally was categorized as “the ugliest of human characteristics,” and the most recent instance of this from the reporter, an “inhumane” act.
While those descriptors struck me as hyperbolic, this point of view is nonetheless quite common. In fact, the Murray debacle managed to unite writers of opposing political ideologies: commentators from the conservative outlet National Review to its more progressive counterparts like Mother Jones and The Intercept were in unison with their umbrage with one journalist arguing that what was happening to Murray was "oppressive." Similar arguments were made in response to anti-gay tweets from Kevin Hart that, too, were reported on following Hart getting good news — in his case, a gig hosting the 2019 Academy Awards that he ultimately backed out of in light of the headlines.
Murray and Hart are just the latest victims of an ongoing pattern where public figures — entertainers, professional athletes, politicians, social media celebrities, and so on — have had their old tweets come back to haunt them. It’s SZA, it’s “Brother Nature,” it’s Yung Miami of City Girls fame, it’s Doja Cat, it’s Amy Schumer, it’s Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, and so many, many others. If you have ever said anything that could be deemed “problematic” on social media and you are a public figure, it’s more likely than it is unlikely that those remarks and the person behind them will be exposed.
There is something grating to the nerve over the new reality that select people are simply waiting in the wings for the right opportunity to “expose” a celebrity and taint either a massive accomplishment in their respective careers, or worse, totally dismantle it. It does indeed recall that old mantra “they bring you up just to tear you down.” And yes, I am in agreement with the notion that people should be allowed to make mistakes, and more importantly, not be defined by them.
Yet, whenever debates about digging up old tweets surface (and they do so with ever increasing frequency), I always hear my favorite Whitney Houston proverb: “Watch what you say, baby girl. Watch what the fuck you say.”
If you post something on the internet, everyone can see it. This is a nugget of intel that continuously slips the minds of far too many. It’s not a riddle: If you post something on the internet, literally anyone and everyone can see it.
Some folks are playing spoiler, and sure, a select few might be playing a game of holier than thou as they flex their purported moral superiority. Even so, we are all responsible for the things we say, and no matter what someone’s intentions might be behind the exposure, ultimately, a person has to accept the consequences of their actions. Meanwhile, there’s something to be said about priorities.
Are a lot of people on Al Gore’s internet jackasses for sitting on old tweets and just waiting for someone to pop off so they can go upside their heads with old feelings they should have never expressed in a public sphere? Maybe. But you know, when I think of "oppression," I think of the systemic racism that continues to marginalize Black people in America. If I were given a pop quiz in which I was asked to cite news stories that speak to inhumanity, I would think of migrant children needlessly losing their lives to an immigration policy best summarized as “the cruelty is the point.” An athlete or actor being held to account for a decade-old homophobic slur doesn’t rank the same in either instance.
I, too, think about the people impacted by the ignorance displayed in many of these resurfacing tweets. Children are killing themselves because of anti-gay bullies in a moment in history where it is an increasingly dangerous time to be a member of the LGBTQ community. These famous people gon’ be alright.
In fact, after the USA Today story was published, Kyler Murray said the following on Twitter: “I apologize for the tweets that have come to light tonight from when I was 14 and 15. I used a poor choice of word that doesn’t reflect who I am or what I believe. I did not intend to single out any individual or group.”
Seconds later, one presumes Murray went right back to debating whether to join the NFL or MLB. When celebrities are called out for their past prejudices, it is a momentary inconvenience for them — one that usually ends after they offer an apology. That is true of Murray and it is true for others who have previously expressed troubling views like anti-semitism, racism, sexism, and other nefarious thoughts like a disdain of Beyoncé.
No one likes to be called out, but if you say something harmful, you deserve to be — no matter when you said it. Some can call this “oppression” if they so choose, but that is a unfortunate opinion that underscores a larger concern for the offender rather than the offended. More time should be spent on making sure people understand that their words matter — again, there are consequences for what you say. Of course, it’s important to recognize growth, but there are times when growth requires penance.
If a person doesn’t like these types of callouts, it’s not as if they don’t have options. They can go vintage and consider journaling as opposed to tweeting. They can see about deleting all of their older tweets. If all else fails, there is the option of not saying anything harmful and offensive on the internet to begin with.