Unfortunately, this isn't Duluth anymore. There's a bit more attention out here.
Everyone wants their favorite athletes on Twitter. Social media gives the average fan a level of access to famous people that they didn't have even five years ago. Using it to your advantage can create a following powerful enough to change the trajectory of your career. Using it poorly? Makes you a punch line.
The list of examples of times this relationship has gone horribly wrong continues to grow. Dan Ellis learned his lesson and dropped social media altogether. Paul Bissonette left Twitter, then came back. The examples in other sports is even longer than with hockey players. Things said in the privacy of their home now are digested publicly. The private self and the online self are no longer separate entities.
For Wild fans, the controversy has stayed at an arms reach, or been so minor it didn't really register on the radar. Until last night. Aeros forward, and University of Minnesota-Duluth standout Justin Fontaine used some, shall we say, regrettable language while chirping back and forth with teammates about the Grammy awards.
We'll keep the discussion of language after the jump. Be warned, this is not suitable for work, and will very likely offend people.
Just the Facts
The Aeros players have gone head long into Twitter, putting some rather entertaining back and forth out in public for fans to see. It gives you a look inside the personality, and the relationships among the players. Congratulations on call ups, fare thee well's for traded player, fun and games on road trips. All the things fans want to see and never used to get.
Last night, while watching the Grammys, there was this exchange:
To which Fontaine responded, and prompty deleted, but lives on due to a retweet by Aeros captain John DiSalvatore.
Fontaine then issued an apology:
After which fans began to get involved, tweeting out the information and responding in support and against. Some tweets got responses from the players. Like this one:
There is the factual basis for your consumption.
Obviously, the language is harsh. Using the term "faggot" is not an acceptable practice in today's world. Sure, people still use it. I have no illusions that hockey players are above its use, and have a feeling it is rather rampant in that particular subset. That does not forgive its usage, nor does it make it any more acceptable. The fact that Fontaine apologized means he knows what he did was wrong.
The rhetorical questions are easy to come up with. What if it were a racial slur? What if he had made an inappropriate comment about women? What about this, what about that. The fact remains, he used a slur, and just because he deleted it and apologized does not make it go away.
To me, the apology lacks understanding of the real problem at hand. "It came out wrong." What else could that mean? "It was a roommate battle, nothing more." Actually, it is a great deal more. The words in the apology show that Fontaine does not fully grasp the depth of the insult that word carries with it.
A clever play on words turns into a nightmare when those words are not chosen carefully. For example... Foo Fuckers would even have passed without much fanfare.
- The use of the slur is bad. The fact that a teammate retweeted it doubly bad, and proves the rampancy with which that word likely passes in conversation without them even noticing. It's no big deal, right? Just another word. Retweet without consequence. The final nail in the coffin? The captain of the team retweeted it. The bastion of leadership, the last line of defense of rationality and forethought. Failure on all accounts.
- Read the last tweet above. Fel0096 is a great person, and so I say all of this with the utmost respect, but that's not sarcasm. I eat, sleep, breathe, and live sarcasm. Look at my profile picture for cripe's sake. Sarcasm is my main mode of communication. Using this word does not work with sarcasm. The use of this word negates your ability to claim sarcasm.
- Also in that last tweet, DiSalvatore says "we mean no disrespect and want to keep it clean and fun." Using one of the most disrespectful words in the English language is not a great way to show your desire to avoid disrespect. To put that into the sarcasm font - Yeah. Sure you didn't mean any disrespect. It closes with "nothingpersonal." Let's contact some gay men and see if they want to accept the "nothing personal" line, shall we? That's a pretty lame way to apologize. But hey... nothing personal.
What the fallout will be will play out throughout the day. More than likely, it will be done behind the scenes. If I had to guess, the level of usage of Twitter by Wild players and prospects is about to undergo a serious cutback. It's disappointing, because the level of interaction with these players was priceless.
The problem is, when you are a pro athlete, you are no longer representing only yourself. As frustrating as that may be, it is the truth. This type of language gives the entire Wild organization a black eye, especially if there is no recourse. If Fontaine had called an opponent that word, he would be suspended. Using it is a punishable offense by the powers that be, even in the "heat of battle."
Outside the rink, in a public forum, where every one in the world has access? You can bet that doesn't go without a lesson being taught. Social media is a wonderful creation. It is also a double edged sword. Access is access, and the players at all levels need to know that.