Part of the function of a social networking site is to reveal, in real time, what people think. That's not always a good thing.
Tuesday morning, as his teammates slogged through another day of training camp at Lehigh University, injured Eagles lineman Todd Herremans was busy tweeting. He had recently watched HBO's True Blood - a series about vampires - and took umbrage with it on Twitter. Herremans shared those thoughts with his more than 1,800 followers. What Herremans wrote appears in this space exactly as it did on Twitter:
"So.. caught up on Trueblood las nite.. Not a fan of how they get u hooked with the 1st 2 seasons then bring on a barrage of homosexuality.."
As one of Herremans followers, I saw the tweet moments after he posted it. It was the way the language was crafted - particularly the "barrage of homosexuality" portion - that gave me pause. No one forced Herremans to write that or share it. No one overheard him say it at a party or took it out of context. He sat down and typed those words himself, then put it on the Internet for everyone to see.
I tweeted him directly and asked for a comment on the record (which was sort of redundant considering all this happened in a forum open to the public). I also asked if he wanted to take back what he said or apologize for his comments.
"@gonzophilly I have no issues with homosexuality, to each his/her own... Its jus not for me.. #jussayin"
It wasn't a retraction, and the "jussayin" rejoinder felt weak - like someone who tries to shield himself from the blowback of uttering something insulting by adding "no offense." When I asked Herremans how his tweet might be received by a gay Eagles employee - closeted or otherwise, playing for the team or serving in some other capacity - and whether that person might find it offensive, he reiterated his position.
"@gonzophilly like I said... To each his/her own!"
Because Twitter is designed to let people peek in on your conversations, my followers and his watched all this unfold. Some people thought what Herremans wrote was insensitive and inexcusable. Others said Herremans had nothing to be sorry for and accused me of attempting to create a controversy.
Though he was afforded several opportunities to recant, Herremans declined. It wasn't until shortly before noon on Tuesday, after consulting with his bosses, that Herremans changed his mind. His original tweet about the "barrage of homosexuality", along with all his responses to me, suddenly disappeared from his Twitter page. Then he published two independent tweets just minutes apart:
"After speaking with Eagles management, I realize that my tweet earlier was insensitive and tasteless, and for this, I deeply apologize."
"It was not my intention to offend or hurt anyone."
It should also be noted that, through a team spokeswoman, the Eagles said "our response is clear and decisive and was reflected in Todd Herremans' follow-up tweet."
It's possible the Eagles front office strong-armed Herremans into it and that his belated mea culpa was insincere and manufactured in order to mitigate the PR damage. It's also possible that he's genuinely sorry for what he initially wrote and was attempting to make amends in good faith. You can decide for yourself.
"Absolutely it's a homophobic statement and unfortunately it shows the intolerance in professional football and why there are no openly gay players in the NFL," said Mark Segal, a community activist and publisher of The Philadelphia Gay News. "This points out, quite clearly, the mind-set of the typical NFL player. Unfortunately, I know there are members of the Eagles who are gay but because of statements like this, they're uncomfortable and remain in the closet."
That's the real shame here. Whether Herremans meant it or not, whether he has hate in his heart or it was a momentary lapse by an otherwise tolerant person, comments like the one he tweeted early Tuesday morning reinforce the perception of professional sports as a domain that's only safe and welcoming for heterosexuals.
Our disdain for inequality and the fight against discrimination in sports apparently ended after knocking down the color barrier. Currently none of the four major American leagues have an openly gay player. It's unfortunate and sad that no gay man has felt comfortable enough to come out, but given the environment in locker rooms across the country, it's not as surprising as it should be.