Column: MLB players need to stay away from the dark side of social media

Why does this keep happening?

For the third time in 12 days, a major league player has been confronted with racist and homophobic tweets from 2011 and 2012: Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers at the All-Star game, Sean Newcomb of the Atlanta Braves and Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals on Sunday.

You can decide whether you accept the sincerity of the apologies from each player, and whether you believe attitudes and beliefs expressed in high school and college truly change into adulthood.

But how do players — and their agents and teams, and all their resources — keep coming up on the losing end of this battle with technology?

First, forget the image of a mischievous or vengeful fan, sitting in front of a computer screen for hours on end, looking for long-ago tweets that could tarnish a player. All that fan needs to do is enter the player’s name and a “trigger word” into Google or another search engine, and a damaging tweet might show up, said Megan Brown, a New York-based social media consultant.

If a fan can do that, then certainly an agent and team can direct an intern to do that. The issue is not new: In 2012, Noah Syndergaard of the New York Mets was caught making a slur, albeit after several days, not several years.


In the wake of the Hader incident, Brown said she has been retained to review social media accounts for 10 to 15 athletes. There also is commercially available software that can complete a basic review in a matter of minutes, Brown said, and they are commonly used in many college athletic departments.

On Monday, Jon Lester of the Chicago Cubs tweeted: “If you’re on Twitter, please spend the 5 minutes it takes to scrub your account of anything you wouldn’t want plastered next to your face on the front page of a newspaper. Better yet, don’t say stupid things in the first place. Too many young guys getting burned.”

Washington shortstop Trea Turner is one of three major league players in the last 12 days confronted with offensive tweets from the past.
(Eric Espada / Getty Images)

The Internet can be forever, and some old tweets might last forever on a screen shot taken before the tweet can be deleted. Brown said she often recommends that players delete all tweets before a certain point in time, or delete their current account and start a new one.

It would be unproductive for a league that has challenges in marketing its best player to advise its players to stay away from social media, to turn away from an outlet that can nurture an authentic relationship between players and fans.

“There is SO much upside,” Atlanta Braves and former Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy tweeted. “If you follow the fundamental rule of ‘am I ok talking about this tweet with a TV camera in my face?’ social media can be wonderful for athletes.”

Indeed, after Braves broadcaster Joe Simpson criticized the Dodgers’ batting practice attire on Saturday, many social media accounts immediately noted that Chase Utley was wearing a T-shirt sold to raise money for cancer research. In the next 24 hours, about $7,500 was raised.

Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin