Just Be Honest About What You’re Doing

On Saturday, in response to a question from ESPN’s Mark Saxon, Dexter Fowler voiced his opposition to the Trump administration’s failed attempt to ban entry to the U.S. by nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, where his wife Darya was born and many of his extended family still live. The story got picked up on social media, and Fowler quickly became the target of waves of criticism and abuse.

The volume and intensity of the backlash was shocking. Here’s just a small sample of some of the comments made in response to the story: “We pay your salary. I don’t give a shit about your political views!” “Maybe he should have brought them over sooner then he wouldn’t have a wet diaper.” “Fuck fowler who cares what he thinks.” “Why is it that the only athletes that are displeased with the President are black? Who’s the one’s being racist?” “Why the hell do these over paid actors and sports figures think WE GIVE A FUCK WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY. Just do what you are paid to do and that is to entertain normal Americans.” “I have no patience anymore for dumbass stupid ass people who keep assisting that illegal aliens are simply immigrants.” “Many Presidents have done this, even Obummer. Fowler is just butthurt.” “He can share all his contract money with the immigrants.” “I don’t want to hear that b******* we pay him to play ball and that’s it.” “Fowler deserves a fastball right between his racist eyes.” “Shut up and go enjoy your $80 million how stupid.” “You’re paid to play, not to spew your political bullshit.” “Uneducated about what the Pres is trying to do for Blacks. Too bad.” “Move to Iran Dexter.” “I guess Dextor was thrilled with all the killings in Chicago last year, as he didn’t post anything about that.” “Wow another overpaid minority has an issue with a Republican?? Shut your ass up.”

No one gave a shit about any of these comments, though, because all of them were posted on a Facebook page called “Chicago Cubs True Fans” (I have no idea, either). Here are some more: “Glad he left.” “Traitor.” “That’s why he went to St. Louis.” “Well he obviously dont like winning hating trump and going to the cards.” “Guess it’s time to burn my Cubs Fowler jersey!” “Go to your St Loooey hellhole and stay there… an oh yeah, STFU.” “Thank Goodness we got rid of him, another crybaby…” “Go Cubs! Go Trump!” “Dexter just became the enemy even more now for me.” “Shut the fuck up traitor!! Who cares what you have to say!” “And I care what you think, why??? You overpaid incredibly lucky, person. Glad your no longer in Chicago!!!” “He isn’t worthy of the phrase former cub.” “Glad your gone BLM MAN FOWLER, and in the mean time , just maybe you can get your head out of clintons corrupt ass ? FUCK YOU SNOWFLAKE MFER.”

This went on and on and on—Cubs fans, hundreds of them, taking time out of their day to hurl cruel and in many cases plainly racist invective towards a player who doesn’t even play for their team anymore.

But as usual, the only abuse Baseball Twitter cared about or bothered to acknowledge was the abuse posted to “St. Louis Cardinals True Fans” (again, no idea). By now this process is so rote that there’s little need for me to explain what happened. The anonymous parasite behind the account @BestFansStLouis took screenshots of some of the worst comments and posted them to Twitter. They went viral, first and foremost among Cubs fans. The c o l o s s a l p i l l a r o f w a s p e g g s internet’s healthy and edifying aggregation ecosystem, from HardballTalk to The Comeback to SB Nation to Uproxx, jumped at the prefab content. Monday arrived and we hit the thinkpiece stage. Cardinals fans objected to being singled out once again, and here I am, writing the same shit I always do.

This is a tremendously efficient feedback loop, and it kicks into gear whenever any of the millions of people who proclaim themselves Cardinals fans do something stupid or offensive, and—let’s be clear—does so only when that happens. It kicks into gear when Cardinals fans say awful things to protesters outside Busch Stadium, but not when Orioles fans get physically violent with protesters outside Camden Yards. It gets activated on a massive and instantaneous scale when a single anonymous Twitter user lies about hearing slurs at Busch on a national TV broadcast, but not when David Price himself reports hearing racist taunts from Red Sox fans at Fenway. It’s why Oakland A’s fans are not notorious for their homophobia. It’s why this t-shirt is infamous and these aren’t.

And it’s why the story that got reported over the last couple days wasn’t that Fowler had been attacked by Cubs fans, or even that he’d been attacked by baseball fans in general—or by Facebook users, or by morons and bigots, or by older, conservative white men, all of which are true. The story was only that he’d been attacked by Cardinals fans. To report it any other way would risk disrupting the feedback loop.

There isn’t, and there never has been, any evidence that this is a useful way to frame this story or others like it. There is no evidence that the Cardinals have a singularly racist fanbase. There is no evidence that, as Will Leitch argues, Cardinals fans are disproportionately from rural areas, which are presumed to be more racist than urban areas (the gap is probably smaller than you think). There is only—there has only ever been—the @BestFansStLouis feedback loop, lizard-brain sports-fan tribalism, heaps of confirmation bias, and more than a small amount of naked classism and snobbery.

I am so unbelievably fucking tired of having to talk about this. I’ve given up hope that the cycle is ever going to end; the incentives—social and professional, emotional and economic—for the people involved to perpetuate it are just too great. But here’s my request, if you’re one of those people: for the love of God, try to be a little more honest about what you’re doing. If you like tweeting about the awful racist meth-addled BFIB, be honest about the fact that you just want to feel a little momentary superiority, to be comforted by the sense that your fanbase isn’t the Bad One. If you’re a baseball blogger writing up a @BestFansStLouis screenshot, be honest about why you know that post is going to do good numbers. If you want to wax soporific about America Is Us and We Are America and What It All Means, or if you want legitimize an unsubstantiated, counterproductive narrative by reaffirming your status as One of the Good Cardinals Fans, be honest about it, even if only with yourself.

Just don’t tell yourself or anyone else that you’re waging a high-minded battle against the forces of ignorance and injustice by posting get_a_brain_morans.jpeg for the thousandth goddamn time. No one seriously engaged in that fight has ever given a moment’s thought to who was or wasn’t in which brand of children’s-game laundry, and anyone who does—anyone whose reaction to bigotry or abuse depends on the fanbase it’s coming from—is only admitting that they’re privileged enough not to have to give a shit in the first place.