In the emotional moments when major international news first breaks, your reaction depends on your mental build. One end of the spectrum sees the silent, intellectual types sitting and watching or reading, absorbing the events. On the opposite end the jubilant and boisterous run to the streets, screaming and yelling triumphantly.
What’s beautiful about the modern tools of social media is that we know about this news immediately, and don’t need to wait for Howard Cosell to tell the world on Monday Night Football. What’s ugly is that social media–and especially Twitter–gives us an avenue to broadcast raw emotion and unchecked opinion to a mass audience. For those who don’t understand the concept of a mental filter, this can be dangerous and hurtful.
Rashard Mendenhall should probably install his mental filter.
You’ve read and re-read Mendenhall’s tweets by now after the Steelers running back opined in 140 characters or less Monday night about Osama bin Laden. It was a little less than 24 hours after U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to the nation and officially announced the death of the former al-qaeda leader, and Mendenhall showed his apparently rich background in American history with this gem.
Mendenhall’s cyber musings also touched on his engineering background, as he said he has “a hard time believing that a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style.”
The other side of the debate Mendenhall spoke of in his first tweet of course is Bin Laden’s, the mad mind who took responsibility for the events of September 11th in addition to releasing video and audio tapes boasting about his terrorist operation. There’s a jungle of 9/11 conspiracy theorists lurking in the deepest and darkness corners of the Internet, but the rantings of the average man don’t harm those who choose to ignore the lunacy.
Mendenhall’s error in his attempt at free speech is in his failure to recognize that he isn’t an average person; he’s a athlete, and therefore a celebrity, which gives his words more weight. We can easily avoid the maniacal theorist pecking away in his basement, but the words of the athlete, musician, or actor are instantly dissected, and they reflect poorly on the organizations that sign their paychecks.
For Mendenhall, that’s the Steelers and the NFL. After the backlash on Tuesday, Steelers president Art Rooney issued a statement, saying that he can’t comprehend what Mendenhall meant, and that “the entire Steelers organization is very proud of the job our military personnel have done and we can only hope this leads to our troops coming home soon.”
In a post published on his personal blog Wednesday morning, Mendenhall tried to provide some clarity. After first saying that he’s not in support of bin Laden, and supports the troops and families who lost loved ones during the events of 9/11, he directly addressed his Twitter activity, and specifically the tweet pictured above.
This controversial statement was something I said in response to the amount of joy I saw in the event of a murder. I don’t believe that this is an issue of politics or American pride; but one of religion, morality, and human ethics. In the bible, Ezekiel 33:11 states, “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!…”. I wasn’t questioning Bin Laden’s evil acts. I believe that he will have to face God for what he has done. I was reflecting on our own hypocrisy. During 9/11 we watched in horror as parts of the world celebrated death on our soil. Earlier this week, parts of the world watched us in horror celebrating a man’s death.
Nothing I said was meant to stir up controversy. It was my way to generate conversation. In looking at my timeline in its entirety, everything that I’ve said is with the intent of expressing a wide array of ideas and generating open and honest discussions, something I believe we as American citizens should be able to do. Most opinions will not be fully agreed upon and are not meant to be. However, I believe every opinion should be respected or at least given some thought. I apologize for the timing as such a sensitive matter, but it was not meant to do harm. I apologize to anyone I unintentionally harmed with anything that I said, or any hurtful interpretation that was made and put in my name.
Mendenhall was no doubt firmly nudged into putting this post together, or more likely had it written for him. Either way, the attempt to throw water on the growing flames dies with the first sentence in the second paragraph. Twitter is the pinnacle of online discussion forums–most of which is drivel–but how could Mendenhall have possibly thought that playing the devil’s advocate in regards to bin Laden’s actions wouldn’t “stir up controversy”?
He recognizes the controversial statement now in hindsight, but in the moment he was on the same level as those who reside at the lowest rung of Internet opinion. Even the most forgiving among us shouldn’t accept Mendenhall’s clarification for his error in judgement.
It happened before, and it’ll happen again.