(aTelecine’s Sasha Grey, nonplussed by the stereotypical characterization below)
SI.com’s Jeff Pearlman recently caught a great deal of heat for his dim view of Jeff Bagwell’s suitability as a Hall of Fame candidate, and writing today for CNN.com, the author of “The Bad Guys Won”, tackles the lack of interweb civility, bemoaning an age in which, ‘the filter that was a pen and paper has vanished, replaced by the immediate gratification of negativity’.
In response to something I wrote on my blog about Jeff Bagwell and the Baseball Hall of Fame, Matt, a college student from Missouri, tweeted me a couple of times.
The words were snarky and snide and rude. His final message, however, left an extra special impression: “I got caught up in the anonymity of the internet. I’m sorry and here is a legit post with my criticisms.” Upon opening the pasted link, I was greeted by a nasty pornographic image that would make Sasha Grey vomit into the nearest trash can.
I aspired to know why Matt, cloaked in the anonymity provided by the internet, felt the need to respond in such a way to, of all things, a Jeff Bagwell post.
So, going deep, deep, deep undercover, I tracked him down and, shortly after our exchange, gave him a call.
Quite frankly, I wanted to hate him. I wanted to bash him. I wanted to plaster his name, address and personal information atop a column on CNN.com, so that when someone Googled his name for future employment, they’d find the words “Sent me a link to pornographic material.”
Then we spoke. And I (dammit) liked him. Without invisibility or the support of his 54 Twitter followers or the superhuman powers supplied by a warm keyboard, Matt was meek and apologetic. “I was just trying to get a rise out of you,” he said. “You’re a known sports writer, and I thought it was cool. That’s all. I never meant for it to reach this point.”
Later in the piece, ESPN’s Howard Bryant, who professes to have an entire “Go Back To Africa” folder of hate mail, explains that when his tormentors are confronted, “the general response is ‘gee, I didn’t think anyone was paying attention.’ And they want to be pals with you.” And perhaps that’s true, in some instances. At the same time — and this is no way meant to condone threatening Mr. Pealrman (or sending him exciting visual materials some of us would be THRILLED to peruse) — there’s something slightly naive about composing a highly provocative takedown of a much admired public figure (or in this case, Jeff Bagwell), and then being surprised when the public actually takes the bait.
There are undoubtedly some sports journalists who fail to receive abusive e-mail, tweets, or jpegs. These writers are also quite likely to be those without full-time writing gigs and/or book contracts. I hate to be so cavalier as to tell Jeff this sort of thing comes with the territory — it’s his territory, after all —- but there’s probably no such thing as a universally beloved sportswriter.