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Twitter is Destroying Sports, and Society Isn’t That Far Off

A decade ago I remember writing a column calling out sports journalist Jason Whitlock for what I thought was a silly, race-baiting piece he wrote about NFL players Peyton Manning and Tracy Porter.

Since that time, I admit that I really lost track of Whitlock – I didn’t read his columns or listen to his commentaries, not out of spite or protest, I just honestly don’t remember coming across his work. Until Friday.

Last Friday, Jason’s new boss Clay Travis at Outkick Sports tweeted out Whitlock’s newest piece. And it may be one of the best, most succinct, most accurate, most astute analyses I’ve ever seen of the current state of American sports – both college and professional. If you think I’m exaggerating, that’s only because you haven’t read it.

Whitlock says in 700 words what commentators and critics outside of sports media have been trying to express in literally thousands of columns: the outrage mob, specifically manifesting on Twitter, has come to own the sports world. Or, as Whitlock puts it, “Jack Dorsey (CEO of Twitter) is the head coach of your favorite college football team.”

“Yes, even at Alabama. Nick Saban is no longer in charge. He answers to Twitter. The 68-year-old winner of six national championships is one disgruntled-player tweet from disavowing all that he believes and running his team in accordance with Twitter bylaws.”

Whitlock brings the receipts to back up his claim. Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State? Brought into submission by an outrage mob fueled on Twitter. Kirk Ferentz at Iowa? Had to fire his strength coach because players generated a Twitter mob after being made uncomfortable by the coach. Ditto all that for West Virginia defensive coordinator Vic Koenning.

No one is safe. No one’s prestige, reputation, or record will protect them. The NFL is the same way – for heaven’s sake, Drew Brees is still apologizing for saying he believes in standing for the national anthem out of respect for veterans. Last I saw heading into the weekend, Brees was tweeting about his favorite rappers in one of the saddest displays of how even the most successful, most accomplished, greatest players can be utterly broken…by Twitter.

As Whitlock observes,

Twitter has instituted a new standard on all coaches. You cannot make young people uncomfortable. You cannot speak to athletes using non-PC language. The standards coaches adopted from military training have been outlawed by social media… We’re raising soft kids, kids who constantly have their victimhood affirmed. 

There it was. The single best assessment of the current state of collegiate and even professional sports that you can put into just a handful of sentences. And what a dangerous future it portends for everyone. Right now it’s race, of course:

Any “uncomfortable” interaction between a white coach and black player is proof of racism. If I’m a coach, regardless of my race, I would not engage with my players on anything unrelated to Xs and Os.

One of the allegations against Koenning is that he expressed displeasure with the rioting and looting going on during the Black Lives Matter protests. Players were allegedly offended Koenning wasn’t sympathetic. Koenning has no right to express how he feels. His feelings must mirror the feelings of his players or he’s guilty of making them “uncomfortable.”

But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking this is going to remain confined to athletics. This is the brave new world we are allowing our social media dog-piling obsession to initiate. And the truth is that by the time many of the young people driving it realize they won’t survive themselves the very kind of puritanical scrutiny they traffic in, it will be too late.

Our only hope is that people everywhere read Whitlock’s piece, take heed, and say no more.

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