In 2004, Curt Schilling pitched a winning game for the Boston Red Sox against the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. He was playing with an ankle tendon injured so badly that by the end of the game, his white sock was soaked with blood. Later that same season, he pitched a World Series game that led to another bloody sock, which was placed in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Schilling’s bloody sock is a symbol of grit that borders on heroism. If Schilling had done nothing else for the rest of his life, he could have been revered and admired. After retiring from baseball, he made a disastrous foray into the video game market, but most people (at least those who weren’t damaged by the company’s bankruptcy) would probably remember 38 Studios as a garden-variety business miscalculation. It didn’t have to blight his awe-inspiring baseball career.
But then two weeks ago, he shared a Facebook post offensive to transgender people, endorsing it with a comment suggesting that those who support transgender bathroom laws are “pathetic.” He was immediately fired from ESPN, where he worked as a baseball commentator. It wasn’t Schilling’s first offensive post on social media, and he has apparently been a problem for ESPN, which considers itself an inclusive organization, for some months. Schilling has defended his behavior both petulantly and unconvincingly.
Posting offensive stuff on social media cannot negate his achievements as a baseball player, but I suspect history will remember him chiefly, not as the man who pitched a crucial game with a bleeding ankle, but as the guy who lost a good job for posting bigoted commentary online. That’s definitely the impression you get when you Google his name.
I am sure Schilling has his own reasons for publicly ridiculing transgendered people. Perhaps he thinks that sacrificing a priceless reputation for the momentary satisfaction of making a thoughtless comment is an acceptable tradeoff.
Whether or not his behavior makes sense to you, however, it can certainly be a lesson. It can take a lifetime to live down a thoughtless comment — anyone who has been married can tell you that. In the privacy of a marriage, this phenomenon can be more or less manageable. But making your thoughtless comment in public can leave you open to vilification, or at the very least cost you a good job. And making a thoughtless comment on social media can get you that, plus a permanent record of your foolishness. Schilling’s excuses (“I didn’t post it.” “It was a comment about restrooms.”) will never erase this affair. There is no way to delete information that’s online.
There was a time you could make a thoughtless remark, and if there weren’t many people around to hear it, it might be forgotten. That’s no longer the case, particularly when it comes to online communication. What you say online matters, and it lives forever. Even if you don’t care about hurting the feelings of others, you may want to think about your own reputation. And if you work in an organization or do business with the rest of the world, you may even want to think about the risk to your livelihood.
So before you click the “Post” button, ask yourself if you’re about to do something you would do in front of your boss, your co-workers, and your customers. More to the point, is it something you would like to see in your Wikipedia entry?