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Indians, MLB need to take Trevor Bauer’s harassing tweets seriously

Divisional Round - Houston Astros v Cleveland Indians - Game Three

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 08: Trevor Bauer #47 of the Cleveland Indians reacts in the dugout after being pulled in the seventh inning against the Houston Astros during Game Three of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field on October 8, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

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Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer is what we extremely online people call “extremely online.” For those of you who, unlike me, still understand what it means to see sunlight and experience human contact, to be “extremely online” is to inculcate oneself to Internet culture, including humor. Bauer exemplified this last year when he went to arbitration with the Indians. He wanted to file for $6.9 million, but as Jeff Passan (then of Yahoo Sports) reported, the right-hander was warned that the figure was too high and could result in him losing his case. He then wanted to file for $6,420,969.69.

Why 69? As any teenager can tell you, it references a sexual position and that’s funny stuff on the Internet. Why 420? Well, that references April 20, or 4/20, a day of celebration for marijuana enthusiasts. Bauer eventually settled on filing for $6.525 million – no reference to sex or drugs. Still needing to scratch the Internet humor itch, Bauer started “The 69 Days of Giving” in which he would donate $420.69 daily to a different charity. On the 69th and final day, he pledged to donate $69,420.69 to a secret charity. So, that gives you a bit of a picture of Bauer’s personality and sense of humor. We also know he’s a huge drone enthusiast and he’s been very critical of MLB’s arbitration system overall. He marches to the beat of his own drum.

That was mostly fine until two days ago when Bauer responded to a critic on Twitter. The critic, a baseball fan named Nikki, wrote of Bauer, “My new least favorite person in all sports,” tagging Bauer’s Twitter account (@BauerOutage). Bauer responded, “Welcome to the fan club” and included a kiss emoji. If that was the start and end of it, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But Bauer persisted, repeatedly going after her. Deadspin’s Laura Wagner captured a large quantity of Bauer’s tweet in an article on Monday, so check that out for the full context.

One of Bauer’s offenses was making a transphobic joke, which will need explaining for those who aren’t “extremely online.” Nikki wrote to Bauer, “Maybe you should act like the PROFESSIONAL you are, and like the 27 year old MAN you are, and not harass me for 14 hours. You are a horrible human.”

Bauer responded, “I identify as a 12 year old. This is 2019. You have to have empathy for my situation. Those are the rules”.

Bauer is referencing an Internet meme (specifically a “copypasta”) that started out as, “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter.” It’s meant specifically to discredit non-binary people, suggesting that one can identify as anything, like an attack helicopter, along with the various identities in the gender spectrum. Bauer, whose humor exactly lines up with those who would use this meme, understands the implication behind the joke. Bauer made hundreds of replies to people since the debacle started, but interestingly did not respond to FanGraphs writer Sheryl Ring, who is trans. Ring simply asked to have a conversation about why the comment “really isn’t an okay thing to say.” [Update: I’ve been told that Bauer did respond, but the conversation or certain tweets have been deleted. So feel free to ignore this point.]

Bauer’s other offenses were continually harassing Nikki, who had ceased replying to his tweets early on. Bauer also replied to Nikki’s tweets publically – direct replies can only be seen by those who follow both parties – which allowed all 134,000 of his followers to get in on the drama and chime in. Bauer was repeatedly inviting his fans to harass Nikki on his behalf, and they did. Nikki ended up temporarily deleting her account. Responding to a Bauer fan who criticized her for deleting, Nikki wrote, “Sorry I didn’t like being told to kill my self for 4 days straight. You’re right. I’m so soft.”

Additionally, when responding to people, Bauer repeatedly put the blame on Nikki for starting the whole thing. Which is true, she did start it by criticizing him. But he didn’t have to respond and amplify the remark to 134,000 people. He needs to have a thicker skin and an ability to resist the urge to engage critics, of which he has many.

Why is Bauer’s behavior wrong? Simply put, it’s because there’s a power imbalance and Bauer exploited that to harass a woman, a baseball fan. Even after the online fracas with Bauer, Nikki has only 600 followers. Only a handful of people would go to bat for Nikki, but even a tiny percentage of Bauer’s 134,000 followers going after Nikki constitutes a gross amount of abuse. Let’s say that only 0.5 percent got involved. That’s still 670 people -- more than Nikki’s entire follower count. It’s tough to get an actual count of just how many people were in Nikki’s mentions as a result of her interactions with Bauer, but a cursory search shows it’s quite a lot.

In short, Bauer wielded his power – his fame and online influence – improperly and unfairly towards Nikki. He bullied her. It is also notable that Bauer chose to obsess this way over a female critic. He has never gone to this length to challenge a male critic. In fact, Bauer’s fans were repeatedly tattling on Craig for criticizing his behavior earlier, essentially begging Bauer to tear Craig a new one, and Bauer only responded once, brusquely asking to be untagged from the conversation. Why is Bauer willing to tear Nikki apart publicly but not Craig, whose platform and influence is much, much more vast?

Major League Baseball’s fanbase is among the most homogenized and stagnant in professional sports. The league has been actively searching for ways to attract fans from more diverse backgrounds, like women, people of color, and LGBTQIA people. Teams have held various promotions like Pride Night and Women in Baseball Night. MLB also joined an anti-bullying campaign.

Dan DeRoos of Cleveland 19 reported that the Indians are aware of Bauer’s recent tweets. The club believes that players are in control of their own social media accounts and don’t represent the Indians as an organization. The club declined to elaborate beyond that. MLB, so far, has not acknowledged Bauer’s tweets.

Generally speaking, it’s a good thing that athletes have access to social media. It allows us to get a more intimate experience with those who play the sport at the highest level. This brings some really cool experiences, like seeing Sean Doolittle and Brandon McCarthy’s senses of humor on Twitter, as well as their charitable efforts. Even Bauer has been entertaining, like when he was trash-talking with Alex Bregman. It would be bad for the sport if players were encouraged not to post on social media.

With fame and a platform comes responsibility. There is a very easy line to tow when it comes to bullying and bigotry, and Bauer clearly crossed it. The Indians – already in constant hot water over the use of a racist caricature for a mascot – and MLB can’t both try to appeal to fans of diverse backgrounds and do nothing when players abuse their platforms to harass fans. Furthermore, the whole “he doesn’t represent us” defense is a cop-out. We just had a season in which Josh Hader, Sean Newcomb, Trea Turner, and Michael Kopech’s old tweets were dug up and they had to answer for them. They answered unsatisfactorily, but they were at least held to account in some small way, which is more than can be said for the Indians and MLB with Bauer.

Even ignoring the specifics of Bauer’s offenses, the league shouldn’t want its players harassing fans on social media anyway, no matter who it is. This, at minimum, should have resulted in Bauer being told, “Stop being extremely online.” It would be nice to see Bauer ordered to take sensitivity training and curtail his social media use until he proves he can use it in a healthy and productive manner. It is literally the least MLB and the Indians could do for women and non-binary fans.

Update (3:55 PM ET): Bauer has responded, though he didn’t apologize.

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