“That’s a nuanced position, Beau,” said someone on Facebook recently. Then he restated the question as a binary yes/no.
Funny, I took “nuanced” as a compliment. He apparently didn’t.
But I’m used to that. If you’re part of a small subset of a small subset of soccer fans on Twitter, you may know me as the guy who’s against promotion and relegation in U.S. soccer.
Which isn’t true. I’ve actually proposed several promotion/relegation systems, trying to balance the romantic and competitive aspects of most soccer leagues around the world (bottom teams drop out, top teams from a lower league move up) with the economic realities of jump-starting professional soccer in the USA from its dormant state in the early 1990s.
But because I wrote a book on the success of Major League Soccer in overcoming the odds and getting through 15 years (now 20) without collapsing, all while not using a promotion/relegation scheme, I’m the Evil One. And even as I criticize MLS for heavy-handed, short-sighted negotiating stances and toss up suggestions for easing U.S. pro soccer into a more traditional league system, I’m routinely vilified and dismissed in social media. Experienced soccer coaches, with whom I’d like to chat about how to reform U.S. youth soccer, have me blocked. I’ve been told I shouldn’t be allowed to coach children.
(Granted, things were worse when I said something satirical about Alex Morgan, and the U.S. women’s soccer star called me an idiot. Someone offered to buy my book so she could hit me with it. Someone else said he would kill me twice. He didn’t specify how that works.)
All of these arguments are trivial, of course, though some of the unkind (and unfair/inaccurate) things written about me on social media may have affected sales of a women’s soccer book I wrote. But they illustrate how far we’re willing to go to demonstrate our outrage.
And when we have a more meaningful issue — vaccinations, gun control or sexual assault — the outrage swamps any legitimate conversation we could have.
Despite the Alex Morgan fan’s strangely specific threat, I’m still alive. What we’ve killed is nuance.
We’re quick to label people so we can shame them or dismiss them, sparing us the time it would take to figure out what they’re actually saying.
Ask Chrissie Hynde. The Pretenders’ frontwoman said in her memoir that an incident that sounded to many people like a horrible sexual assault — “gang rape” would be the old-school term — was partially her own doing.
Social media did not take kindly to such a suggestion. Neither did new media. “Chrissie Hynde, The Pretenders’ Female Lead Singer, Just Blamed Rape on its Survivors,” blared the clickbait headline at Mic.
The Atlantic’s Sophie Gilbert apparently has not given up on nuance, taking full stock of the concern that Hynde’s comments might give rapists an excuse but also stepping into Hynde’s shoes and questioning the value of “revictimizing” the 64-year-old rock star:
No matter how Hynde seeks to qualify it, or declines to use the word “rape,” what happened to her at 21 was undoubtedly a traumatic and vicious assault—one that she’s possibly chosen to deal with for the past four decades by affording herself a degree of power and complicity in what happened. And there’s no denying that speaking publicly, as Hynde has done, about how women can be to blame for being sexually assaulted if they’re dressed provocatively is both wrongheaded and extraordinarily damaging to many victims of rape. But Hynde’s choice of words—comparing the outraged responses to her comments to a “lynch mob”—seems to demonstrate that she feels more victimized by the flood of comments and messages and thinkpieces and news hits responding to her story than she does by actually being assaulted in the first place.
Which raises the question: Is attacking Hynde for blaming herself (and yes, by association, blaming others) ultimately productive and worth the cost of revictimizing her? Or is the impulse to shame her and others like her sometimes more about self-gratification than advocacy?
Some Twitterati were supportive:
Others, not so much:
But others were conflicted:
And that’s not a comfortable position. It’s far easier to be outraged, which is why cable “news” shoutfests continue to have viewers.
We also use Twitter as an excuse. “Oh, things come across much worse in 140 characters,” we say. No, they come across worse when you don’t take time to reflect on what you’re really saying. We’ve all tweeted too quickly and been too snarky at times. But it’s our fault, not the medium’s.
Some people, though, are still brave enough to see the gray in the black-and-white issues. We just have to look harder to find them.