Josh Hader took the mound for the Brewers Saturday night, his first appearance since the All-Star break, and since the accompanying revelation that Hader’s Twitter account was full of racist and offensive shit, all of it posted when he was a teenager in 2011 and 2012. Hader was masterful against the Dodgers, working around a two-out double in the seventh and then striking out the side in the eighth, to give the Brewers two innings of scoreless relief en route to 4-2 victory.
But it wasn’t Hader’s pitching that earned him a standing ovation Saturday night—this uncomfortable video of an overwhelmingly white crowd rising for an extended ovation comes from before Hader ever threw a single pitch:
Needless to say, this crowd reaction is going to mean different things to different people. Hader spent Tuesday night apologizing for the old tweets, and apologized for them again on Friday, after addressing his teammates in the Brewers clubhouse:
Here, again, your mileage will vary—Hader, to me, seems genuinely contrite, and so I am inclined towards forgiveness. The public support of Hader’s teammates, too, nudges me towards optimism that he really was just an especially gross and ignorant teenager, and that people who know him as an adult know him to be a different, better way.
But it seems to me that an expression of forgiveness towards a man who has apologized for gleefully expressing homophobia and racism as an 18-year-old is not a rousing standing ovation. To me, accepting his apology and proceeding with something like a clean slate is an appropriate expression of forgiveness—I believe his regret and shame are real, and that his apology is offered sincerely, and so I will not loudly boo him whenever he is in my line of sight. That’s probably the most room I’m willing to make for Hader, certainly less than a week after learning who he has been in the not-too-distant past, and before he’s even completed his sensitivity training. To me, a standing ovation is reserved for someone who has done good, not just someone who has apologized for being actively bad.
There is a whole huge group of people—overwhelmingly they are white people—whose anger, Tuesday night, was not that a top baseball prospect managed to make it all the way to the All-Star game before he was made to answer for being openly, gleefully racist on a public social media account. To these people, the sin that was revealed Tuesday night was in the unearthing of the tweets. Before Hader had ever answered or apologized for making a whole batch of genuinely hateful statements on a public forum, these people were firing off angry emails about how it was unfair for anyone to assign any meaning to the Tweets in the first place, as if making Hader’s hateful public posts more public was somehow a dishonest act, and worse than producing the posts in the first place.
I don’t want to parse the meaning of Hader’s standing ovation too finely, because I can’t know what was in the minds of the thousands of individual Brewers fans who participated. But there’s something undeniably jarring about an overwhelmingly white crowd’s eagerness to envelop Hader in a show of support, to loudly reaffirm his position among them. It would be unfair to assume this was done because he was racist, but it also cannot have been done because Hader exemplifies ideals of inclusivity and anti-racism, which, on the racist-not racist spectrum, is the only thing worthy of applause. All Hader can be to anyone who doesn’t personally know him, right now, is either a guy who has done the bare minimum to atone for a history of appallingly open bigotry, or a guy who, by being made to apologize for his own public comments, has somehow been unfairly victimized by a liberal outrage machine.
Do you stand and enthusiastically applaud someone for merely apologizing for prior bad acts? Or do you stand and enthusiastically applaud someone as a show of defiance towards an oppressive force that targeted one of your own? Probably Brewers fans were just drunk and dumb. Their enthusiasm for welcoming and embracing Hader in this particular moment, though—while the ugliness of what he said is still ringing in the minds of exactly the people and groups it was meant to offend, and while those people are still justifiably skeptical of Hader’s self-professed and undeniably self-serving evolution—says an awful lot about who might not be welcome among them. And it’s hard not to believe that’s exactly the intended message.