On Kyler Murray and Social Media Shaming

Saturday night Kyler Murray won the Heisman trophy. By later that evening Murray’s offensive Tweets, sent when he was a teenager, had emerged, eventually leading many top mainstream media outlets to run stories about the Tweets.

This has become an all too common theme and, frankly, it’s patently absurd and indefensible from a journalistic perspective to continue the trend of shaming teenagers for the things they Tweeted when they were children. But this is just the tip of the social media outrage iceberg. I’m going to argue in this column that all of us, media and general public alike, need to recalibrate our responses to social media and the way we allow its controversies and crises to drive our media cycles.

But let’s begin with Kyler Murray, the most recent victim of outrage culture. When he was a fourteen and fifteen years old Murray used gay slurs in Tweets with his friends. On the night of his biggest accomplishment, as has become all too predictable, those Tweets were publicized and led to major stories in USA Today, the New York Post, Yahoo, AOL, the Daily Mail, and countless other media outlets across the country.

Murray apologized for the Tweets, but this is the latest string of stories like these which have been taking place over the past several years, a perpetual and never ending excavation of past Tweets from sports stars that are unearthed at the moment they achieve their greatest athletic accomplishments.

And I think it’s way past time these stories stop.

If we’ve determined as a society that teenagers shouldn’t be responsible for the crimes they commit as juveniles — lest those crimes be so heinous that the teenagers are tried as adults — how can we remotely justify turning teenage Tweets, which I think all of you would agree are infinitely less serious than teenage crimes, into stories in mainstream media sites? If your criminal past isn’t held against you as an adult, why should your teenage social media stupidity?

There was a time when adults made decisions after a reasoned and thoughtful deliberation. That’s how we ended up with the idea that kids shouldn’t be treated as adults when they committed crimes. Now we don’t have that, we have 18 year old’s making brand new apps  and throwing them out into the marketplace before we have any idea what their impact will be. That vibrant dynamism is fantastic for American commerce, but it means our modern culture lacks the time and intelligence to understand what the impact of these new societal constructs are. The result in social media? If people click it, it’s good.

So let’s be straightforward about what stories like these are — they’re cheap, clickbait trash designed to allow a media outlet to capitalize on the surging interest in an athlete at the time of their greatest achievement. They also allow a cheap moralizing from the typical social justice warriors, who hold up the athlete as the latest symbol of everything wrong with American life. For the perpetually aggrieved in our modern days sports oppression Olympics, it’s manna from heaven.

Whether it’s winning the NCAA tournament because of your stellar play, pitching a no hitter or a perfect game, preparing to be drafted in the first round of the NFL, pitching in the All Star game, or winning the Heisman trophy, the stories are all the same — young adults who have just achieved their greatest athletic moment are immediately torn down by adults who should know better.

Think about who we’re rewarding here — we’re rewarding adult losers whose first thought when they heard of an athlete’s big accomplishment was to go search for “bad” words on the athlete’s Twitter account. Is that the kind of behavior we really want to encourage, an America where adult achievement is immediately ripped down in favor of childish misbehavior? Of course not.

Writer and editors in the world of sports should know better than to write pieces about these.

Put simply, the media is getting this dead wrong and the American general public is sick of it.

Much was made of the standing ovation Josh Hader received in Milwaukee after teenage Tweets of his were unearthed during his All Star game start this past summer. Many in the media said the crowd was endorsing the Tweets with their standing ovation, but this was insanely stupid. What was happening was clear to anyone with a functioning brain — the general public believed Hader had been mistreated by the media. They didn’t approve of the Tweets, they disapproved of the way the media was treating Hader in the wake of the Tweets.

Their standing ovation was an attempt to balance the scales, to let a hometown athlete know they supported him even though he’d made mistake in his youth. The Milawaukee fan base was showing a maturity and nuance the media was incapable of demonstrating.

Why would the crowd behave this way?

Because most of those in the crowd have kids or grandkids or have been kids themselves and they knew, as we all know, that teenagers regularly do stupid and inappropriate things. The public isn’t perfect, but they have great collective wisdom, they don’t judge an athlete based on one Tweet or one statement or one one out of context act when he was still a child.

I think most of you probably agree with me that childhood Tweets shouldn’t be major media stories, but the media’s coverage of these Tweets is emblematic of an overall failure to deal with social media in a method befitting of its triviality.

Let me explain what I mean by going to an audio clip that loosed a thousand ships — remember when Donald Trump’s grab her by the pussy audio went public just before the 2016 election? The media immediately pronounced Donald Trump’s presidential campaign to be over, saying this audio was a disqualifying act. (This was, conservatively, the four billionth time the media had pronounced Trump’s campaign to be over). But do you know what the American public did? They mostly shrugged. Because that’s the kind of audio many expected to come out from Donald Trump. Very few people changed their opinion of Donald Trump based on that audio. Even fewer changed their vote.

So Trump still got elected president.

But do you know whose career ended because of that tape?

Billy Bush, the guy standing next to Trump when the Access Hollywood audio was recorded.

Think about this for a minute: Donald Trump got elected president, but the Today Show fired Billy Bush for not condemning Trump years ago on that audio. That’s because the media standard for acceptable behavior is antiquated, artificial, and significantly, fake. The media is policing an artificial reality, one where people don’t talk and behave as humans talk and behave.

The public didn’t demand Billy Bush be fired, his media bosses did.

If the American public had voted on Billy Bush keeping his job, he would have remained employed.

The American media has become obsessed with making Twitter users happy, but, and this is key, Twitter isn’t real life. It’s an artificial funhouse mirror populated, overwhelmingly, by far left wing perspectives.

Increasingly, I believe one of the big challenges facing our country is the overindexing of social media as if it represents the real world. We have to stop letting the perpetually outraged losers among us police society. Remember the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?”

Now all we do is argue that words hurt us all day long, every day.

That’s why I loved the response of Congressman Dan Crenshaw, the one-eyed veteran who was mocked by Saturday Night Live. Instead of joining our national outrage Olympics, do you know what Crenshaw did? He refused to get outraged over a joke at his expense, even if it was an unfair and cruel joke. What’s more, he even went on SNL the next week.

Here’s that clip.

Crenshaw behaved liked an adult who is capable of handling someone saying something bad about him even if, yes, it was unfair and callous and he could have won the entire week’s worth of outrage Olympics by curling up in the fetal position and whimpering.

That’s how I was raised, with an understanding that sometimes people would say mean things about me and I couldn’t allow what someone said about me to define my self worth. I had to deal with it and move on. (Or, more likely, in my school age era, return fire with fire and ridicule the person ridiculing you. Remember burn wars? They were phenomenal, they toughened all of us up back in the day. Do kids today even make fun of each other? Or do they just scan Twitter all day looking for a comedian who made a joke they can be outraged by?)

That’s what most of us in the American public do, we don’t have time to protest and grab our pearls and fall on our fainting couches when someone says something we don’t agree with. We’re too busy with life. Yet that’s pretty much all social media is, a far left wing echo chamber dripping with perpetual identity politics laden grievance.

It’s the outrage Olympics every damn day and instead of being the adults in the room, the media exacerbates this tension, leading to one moment of satirical absurdity after another.

Look at what just happened to Kevin Hart, the man who was picked to host the Oscars. The moment he was named as Oscar host the same losers who went after Kyler Murray went back through Hart’s old Tweets and found them lacking. Hart’s spent his entire career trying to make people laugh. I know this going to shock y’all, but it turns out that some of Kevin Hart’s jokes were offensive to some people.

But, and this is key, the intent was to make people laugh. I’m old enough to remember when intent still mattered. Not just some loser’s feelings.

Jokes aren’t born perfect and they aren’t all made for every person. What’s more, comedians evolve as their culture evolves. The same joke that worked in 1974 might not work in 2018. We are all, despite social justice warriors insistence otherwise, a product of our time and era.

The general public understands this.

If the general public had been voting on whether Kevin Hart should be able to host the Oscars in spite of his Tweets, they would have said yes by a landslide. That’s because the general public understands that every joke isn’t made for every person and that there’s a difference between ill intent and ill result.

Yet under the Hart standard adopted by the Oscars there is almost no comedian on the planet who is now able to host the Academy Awards.

And that’s not hyperbole — seriously, go look at this list of “offensive” Tweets or comedy routines by top comedians that would render them unable to host the Oscars.

This is particularly troubling because this puritanical search for politically correct humor and opinion is being policed by the media and Hollywood, the two places which used to embrace the first amendment and free speech most zealously.

Now creative freedom is being excised in favor of mind control. There is a correct opinion and if you stride outside of that correct opinion woe unto you.

This is insanity.

And it’s also scary because it’s what totalitarian governments do.

True creativity comes from pushing boundaries, from challenging consensus, from taking risks and disrupting the status quo. A stifled society which only believes in one thing is a broken one, a society headed for downfall.

The speech police are on the march and no one is safe. Not athletes, not entertainers, not you or me or your kids or your grandkids. All of us are a Tweet away from perpetual unemployment. Even if, as the case may be, those Tweets were sent when you were 14 years old.

This is just wrong and unjust and deep down the American public sees and knows it. Honestly, it’s a big part of why Donald Trump is our president right now; millions of people voted for Trump not because they approve of what he’s saying or even of much of what he’s doing, but because they approve of the fact that he’s not artificially circumscribed by the arbitrary rules of media stupidity. They like that Trump is disrupting the artificial rules about social media behavior and they think that someone, even if it’s an imperfect vessel, needs to shatter the politically correct false idol our society is kneeling before.

It may not be entirely rational, but sometimes people get so angry when something is broken that they break it even worse than it was before. How many times have you, in a moment’s frustration, taken a piece of technology that isn’t working like it should and thrown it down on the ground, breaking it even worse than it was broken before? That’s what the Trump presidency is like for a huge percentage of people in this population, a further shattering of something that was already broken in the hope that what emerges will be better than what came before it.

The frustration is so rampant and palpable right now that I feel like Kyler Murray, for many, was a tipping point in athletics, a sense that much of our media is broken, artificial, and, yes, fake. The outrage isn’t real, the emotions aren’t either, it’s all just artifice, a simulacrum of reality.

I’m banned from going on CNN right now as a guest because I said I liked the first amendment and boobs last year on their airwaves.


The entire network banned me because they said my opinion wasn’t acceptable. Do you know who also loves the first amendment and boobs? Just about every red blooded American man and woman in the country, the ones not sitting around looking for bad words on Twitter every time someone achieves something substantial.

Right now there are many people in media reading this article who will agree with everything I’ve said here. But do you know what they’ll do? They’ll be afraid to share the article because they’re afraid that the mob will come for them next. That they will be the next target, the next Kevin Hart or Kyler Murray.

It’s all absurd and ridiculous, all of it.

The obsession with politically correct pearl clutching needs to end, now.

We, all of the reasonable adults in this country, need to attack the media whenever we see it happening, defend the targets of the abuse and we need to reject it as out of hand. This isn’t about left wing or right wing opinion, it’s about the importance of allowing opinion, and humor, to still exist in this country.

It’s not healthy for our country to police every single word and it’s noxious for our republic to eliminate all nuance and complexity in favor of enabling rabid jackals of mob-enswirled outrage.

We are all much more than our Tweets.

It’s time the media caught up with the general public and realized this fact.

We don’t need any more more Kyler Murray’s or Josh Hader’s or Kevin Hart’s or James Gunn’s.

It’s time for this era of public shaming to end.


If you agree with this column, you’ll probably agree with my latest book too. It’s called “Republicans Buy Sneakers Too,” and it’s available here on Amazon and here from me if you want an autographed copy.

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.