When Curt Schilling toed the rubber for a Major League team — especially in the postseason, and especially in adverse conditions — there was one word that consistently described him: Fearless.
That “label” has followed him into his newest career as an ESPN baseball analyst. Unlike many of whom the late Howard Cosell designated “the jockocracy” — former athletes suddenly turned broadcasters, with no training, experience, or willingness to challenge the actions of any current coaches or players — Schilling has not shied away from expressing his opinions, whether the subject be baseball or politics. And it’s no surprise that his comments have brought controversy at times — and occasionally, simply because he once was a member of the Red Sox, Phillies, and Diamondbacks, people take offense at what he says because they root for teams that lost to his.
But Schilling’s latest crusade — taking on the Twitter trolls who have said unimaginably infantile and tremendously thoughtless things toward his daughter after Schilling announced (with a Tweet), “Congrats to Gabby Schilling, who will pitch for the Salve Regina Seahawks next year!” — may be a pitch more powerful than his fastest fastball, more knee-buckling than his breakingest curveball, and bolder than his meanest glare when staring down a future Hall-of-Famer in the batter’s box.
What was intended to be simply a proud father’s announcement of a hard-working, deserving daughter getting an opportunity to play a collegiate sport, turned ugly quickly, as a collection of sad social media sickos greeted his Tweet with pronouncements of all kinds of things they would do to his daughter — vile things, juvenile things, ridiculously incendiary things, offered by people whose “courage” grows by leaps and bounds because they think they are somewhat anonymous behind an obscure Twitter handle, or have yet to grasp the consequences of the ease with which one in today’s society can hit the “Send” button and seriously impact another’s life.
You expect this kind of behavior in a movie that might star Will Ferrell or Kevin Hart or have any involvement by the Judd Apatows of Hollywood, but this is real life. Gabby Schilling is 17 years old — a minor, in legal terminology — and the things said in response to her father’s Tweet are not fit for print, video, audio, or even lining birdcages. But Gabby’s father didn’t take these affronts lying down — has he ever?
What Schilling did — and should be applauded for with ovations that ring far across the canyons of cyberspace itself — was to share a portion of these messages with all of us. Every disgusting, repulsive, utterly shocking word of it. Because sometimes the only way to understand a situation is to have your own feet crammed into the moccasins of the one that must walk the trail and deal with what comes his way.
Schilling did so on his personal blog, 38 Pitches (you can find links to it all over the Internet by now). And if you think the opinionated righthander is just letting his “moral superiority” freak flag fly here, consider the opening words of his story: “I thank God every day that Facebook and Twitter, Instagram, vine, YouTube, all of it, did not exist when I went to high school. I can’t imagine the dumb stuff I’d have been caught saying and doing.” So right off the bat, Mr. Schilling honestly acknowledges that he might have been guilty of some of this same stuff had the tools been around in his heyday.
Schilling goes on to share the idiocy of the Tweets that rolled in after his announcement of his daughter’s softball future at Salve Regina University in Rhode Island, even outing the identities of a couple of the worst offenders. He acknowledges that “guys will be guys,” yada yada yada, and that he actually expected some negative reaction. But then — and this is when it really starts to dig in under your skin, and make you itch in places you probably haven’t scratched in a while — he says this: “But I have to ask, is this even remotely ok? In ANY world? At ANY time?”
The simple, honest answer is: No, it’s not. In ANY world. At ANY time. Even in a country with free speech all around, a smartphone in every hand, social media of all types at the ready, and an index finger just waiting to push one button that will send a message to all the world just how clever we can be. Or just how stupid we can be. The real shame is how often we mistake the latter for the former.
Schilling, who appeared on The Dan Patrick Show to address the issue, said that he had tracked down the personal information of every single one of the persons who sent offensive messages, to both illustrate the ease with which it can be done and to emphasize the gravity of responsibility one takes when he or she presses that “Send” button. “This is not OK and for people to say, ‘Well that’s the Internet, that’s the world we live in,’ well, you can take that attitude but you are going to be one of the reasons why it happens,” Schilling told Patrick. “Nobody should be able to get away with saying things like that to a father about their daughter.”
Schilling told Patrick that “laws were broken” and that he would be pursuing any available legal action that might prosecute the instigators. But his real purpose — potentially far more important than any personal vigilante-ism against the cybermorons that he identified — is to call our attention to the need for responsibility and accountability in a generation that is growing up in millisecond timing while surrounded by gigabytes of data just screaming to be shared, whether it’s a cat playing a piano, a weasel riding on a flying woodpecker, or the half-naked selfie you decided to send to your significant other. It was a sentiment echoed by the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen on his own show yesterday: Take responsibility. And if you’re a parent, model responsibility.
There used to be a game show called Truth or Consequences. The truth is, there are consequences, to every action we take. If we try to be reasonably responsible, the consequences have a much better chance of being good. If we don’t — if we think it’s funny or clever to cyberbully, or to disparage or slander another, just because we can — the consequences have a much better chance of being bad.
It was just last week that another ESPN personality, Keith Olbermann, learned the hard lesson of being too fast with his Twitter finger. In an ongoing social media feud with Penn State nation, whom he has rightfully accused of being too tolerant of the conditions which allowed Jerry Sandusky to shame the school and too worshipful of the leadership who could have done something about it sooner, he inadvertently clicked too quickly on a Tweet, which ended up calling a group of Nittany Lion students “pitiful” — after they’d just raised $13 million to fight pediatric cancer. To its credit, ESPN suspended Olbermann for the rest of the week, and to his credit, Olbermann apologized on-air this week with the clear and heartfelt message that he was very much in the wrong, and that one of the reasons it happened was because it’s so easy to do it. He called for a greater show of responsibility with social media, for him and for every other user.
Curt Schilling is making that pitch now. It’s the greatest purpose pitch he’s ever thrown.
Let’s hope it breaks a few bats.