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What Good Did USA Today’s Ambushing Kyler Murray Do Anyone?

Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray during a press conference at the New York Marriott Marquis after winning the Heisman Trophy, December 9, 2018. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Congratulations to Kyler Murray for winning the Heisman — and in a year during which Tua Tagovailoa was playing football, no less. And all shame to Scott Gleeson, of USA Today, who waited until the exact moment that Murray had been selected for the award before amplifying a national shaming campaign that had been built atop a handful of tweets that Murray wrote when he was 14.

Gleeson’s bio tells us that he covers “breaking news and social issues through a sports lens.” In this instance, however, he seems instead to have covered “sports through a social-issues lens,” and, in so doing, to have ruined one of the biggest and happiest moments of Murray’s life. Those who Googled Murray’s name yesterday were greeted not with headlines about his remarkable achievement, but with headlines that described him as a homophobe and demanded a public apology.

What a despicable, rotten, envious, cowardly choice for USA Today to make.

Gleeson’s story begins with these words:

Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray had a Saturday to remember. But the Oklahoma quarterback’s memorable night also helped resurface social media’s memory of several homophobic tweets more than six years old.

Ah, I see. It was Murray’s “memorable night” that “helped resurface social media’s memory of several homophobic tweets more than six years old,” and not, say, Scott Gleeson — and others in the press — who decided to run with the story and hype it all around the Internet. How tough it must be to serve as a bystander to your own work!

Gleeson continues:

Murray, 21 now, joins several other famous athletes to find themselves thrust in a negative spotlight as a result of their old tweets resurfacing in the midst of big accomplishments.

“Find themselves thrust.” “Their old tweets resurfacing.” The passive voice is apparently quite popular at USA Today, which did the same thing to Donte DiVincenzo earlier this year, and in almost precisely the same manner. Back then, Josh Peter reported that “an offensive tweet from Donte DiVincenzo’s account in 2011 surfaces” — “surfaces”! — and lamented that:

The Internet never forgets. And if you said something awkward or offensive, even seven years ago, it might show up unexpectedly on the best night of your life.

Well, sure. It’ll show up on the best night of your life if a national newspaper ensures that it does, just as it’ll stay forever on the Internet if figures such as Josh Peter burn it into the record.

What, one has to ask, is the public-interest angle here? Fourteen-year-olds say stupid things constantly. Yes, all of them. What possible good can it do to punish them as adults for the thought crimes they committed as minors? Had Murray committed an actual crime — say, shoplifting or joyriding or the like — it would likely have been expunged from his record when he reached the age of majority, especially given how impressive a young man he has become in the interim. And even if it hadn’t, the press would likely have been circumspect about bringing it up. But tweets? Apparently, we just Have to Know — and on the day of his triumph, to boot.

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