Aristotle once observed that the only surefire way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, say nothing and be nothing. Or something like that, we weren’t there. But at least this much is certain about the Ancient Greek philosopher who had a profound impact on Western learning: He had no football skills whatsoever, and he never sent a Tweet. Yet, while he didn’t have a social media account like so many of today’s armchair philosophers, his wisdom holds up.
We mention this because last Sunday turned out to be a pretty rough day for fans of the Baltimore Ravens and its star quarterback, Lamar Jackson. He not only came up short in a truly painful 28-27 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, completing only half his passes, but the five-year veteran made a rookie mistake on Twitter. After the game, a Twitter user tagged Jackson in a tweet that suggested that the quarterback — who is reportedly seeking $250 million in guaranteed salary in his next contract — should never have let the game come down to a 67-yard field goal attempt from Justin Tucker in the final seconds that came up short. “Let Lamar walk and spend that money on a well-rounded team,” the critic recommended to the Ravens front office.
Jackson’s response was, shall we say, undiplomatic. It included the common social media instruction to “STFU” — which in this holiday season could possible mean “serve the fruitcake, uncle,” but we suspect it likely was intended as “shut the F-word up,” which sports writers across the country have helpfully described as “profane.” Jackson’s tweet also mentioned that the original poster “never smelt a football field,” and he then threw in some additional crudities that we will not burden our readers with by repeating.
Jackson’s response was deleted within a few hours, but the foolishness of it lingered in the digital world like cheap cologne. Some troll had successfully baited one of the NFL’s star players. Imagine the joy that out-of-towner experienced by doing nothing more profound that tapping a keyboard, tagging a celebrity, hitting the send button and then watching it all go viral. Who says it’s tough to get on the pages of Sports Illustrated?
Fortunately, The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board members have some modest experience in the world of trolling. We may not stir passions quite like a star quarterback, but pointed criticism is kind of a regular companion when you write for a daily newspaper’s editorial pages. Our advice? Don’t engage. A heated response only serves the purposes of the troll. Constructive criticism from credible sources is another matter, but on Twitter, critiques are often less about building up than tearing down, posting comments for the purpose of causing upset or declaring one’s own supposed superiority. Twitter is about caustic remarks and clever comebacks; context and nuance are often missing. And that’s unlikely to improve under the platform’s new owner, Elon Musk. The “quarterback” of Tesla and SpaceX is a master troller himself and has proceeded to muck up Twitter even worse since spending $44 billion to acquire it.
As for our fellow Baltimoreans, we would just point out that Lamar Jackson shouldn’t be judged too harshly for his social media outburst, nor trolled on Twitter for his game play. He is 25 years old, extraordinarily gifted at a sport in which you risk serious injury every minute you play it, and he faces enormous pressures the likes of which few of us can fully appreciated. Forget “smelling” football fields, how would you like to know that a potential quarter-billion payday rests of your performance on any given Sunday? OK, OK, for some of us wannabes, that would be pretty sweet.
Still, it’s better to put down the screens and, after a tough afternoon of watching superstar football players perform for our entertainment, maybe go for a little walk around the block to clear our heads before weighing in, if we must. You don’t have to be a celebrity to post messages you will later regret on Twitter or elsewhere. And if you are the recipient of a mean message? Better to heed Aristotle, or simply reply with a “Have a nice day!” and let your critics know you can’t be so easily rattled.
Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.