Ever know of a story that would fit the moment, but it’s not your story to tell? Can you avoid the temptation to tell it anyway?
There are two problems with stories that belong to someone else:
- It’s a violation of trust to take from someone else their right to decide if and when their story becomes public, and
- You would be telling the story second hand, so you might get it wrong.
I was watching the A’s-Diamondbacks game (a fun 4-1 A’s victory led by Jesús Luzardo’s best start thus far) when word came over the Twitter wire about a homophobic slur uttered on the air by Reds broadcaster Thom Brennaman.
I could tell some stories here which related to that, but I’m not going to, because of the reasons in the first section above, and also because that essay would pretty much have the exact same structure, and come to the exact same conclusion, as my essay two weeks ago about Ryan Christenson.
The conclusion is this: what people really want when some famous person does something appalling is not for any particular specific punishment. People don’t really care if these offenders are fined some money, or lose their job, or go to jail. What people want in these situations is for that person to lose their status.
You could fine a famous person a huge chunk of money, AND take away their job, AND send them to jail, AND make sure they give a sincere, heartfelt apology, AND make amends for all the damage their bad behavior caused, but if after all that they come back and end up with the same status they had before, nobody is going to be satisfied.
What we really want from people like that is for them to have to start over, from the bottom. Being famous has huge outsized advantages in our high-tech media culture. Take those advantages away. Humble them. They did something stupid, like a young ignorant fool. Treat them like that young person, who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Start them at the bottom, and make them have to earn their way back up.
That’s not too hard to do when it’s a coach, or an announcer. Send them down to the minorest of minor leagues, and move everybody up a notch.
That’s harder to do for a player. You’re not allowed to send a 10-year veteran to the minor leagues, for example, your only choice by the rules is to let them go. But for younger players, the rules allow for that. The Cleveland Indians did exactly that recently with Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger, who violated the COVID-19 protocols and then lied about it. Because both of them had options remaining, the Indians sent both of them down to their alternate site, and are kind of letting them rot there. It may be costing Cleveland some victories, because both of them are good players, but they felt it necessary for everyone to be satisfied.
So the point is, again, just like the Ryan Christenson incident: despite most of the rhetoric you will hear, these reactions are not really about seeking punishment, or about surpressing free speech. It’s about lowering status. Thom Brennaman said something horribly homophobic, and people will not be satisfied until Thom Brennaman’s status is lowered, not as the first act in a redemption play, not as the first scene of a death and resurrection story, not even as the origin story of a true villain, but until he is just as anonymous as the rest of us, the non-famous, the forgettable and forgotten, whose stories will never be known by anybody.