This week, SB Nation hired Christian Twitter personality R.C. Sproul Jr. to take over its Pittsburgh Pirates team site, Bucs Dugout. Sproul Jr. was brought in to fix a problem left over from the site’s previous leadership, but as was revealed in the comment section of his first post, he came with his own baggage, and there sure was a lot of it.
Sproul Jr. is the son of noted homophobe R.C. Sproul, who founded the organization Ligonier Ministries. That’s not the major reason why Bucs Dugout’s readers were apprehensive, though. Sproul Jr. resigned from Ligonier in 2016 after he was arrested for driving under the influence with two of his children in the car. (He took a plea deal in 2017.)
Sproul Jr. announced his hiring in a post published on Wednesday. Here’s an excerpt:
Some of you have been waiting more intently for the announcement of the new site manager than for opening day. I’m the guy, and I thought it prudent to introduce myself. I have made my living as a writer and editor for more than 25 years. I’ve written for national magazines, various websites and have published more than a dozen books. I have been a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates my whole life.
Some of the site’s readers were skeptical. One commenter wrote:
After reading a bit about your background elsewhere, including a conviction for drunk driving, getting caught up in the Ashley Madison scandal, being “defrocked” in your ministry, allegations of the misuse of tax numbers, some way out talk about wife spanking etc., I’d like to suggest that you give BD a detailed explanation of the above and anything else you think we should know about you.
We all know that there’s a lot of B.S. on the Internet, and I’d hate to think that the numerous blog posts and articles out there claiming to detail your transgressions are not telling the truth and unfairly besmirching your character.
I’m thinking that Vox Media hired you in some part to be a “moral compass” for the degenerates here who like to curse like sailors and, God forbid, post a pic or two of a chick in a bikini.
Just curious as to how you’re qualified to lead. As a writer, probably yes. As for the rest, I’m very skeptical.
Sproul Jr., who has also written for SB Nation’s Steelers site, responded by telling everyone to “take a breath,” insisting that he just wanted to stick to sports and hoped everyone else would do the same:
You can read what you like about me on the internet, and you can believe what you wish. There are things that are true, and things that are false, things I’m ashamed of, and things I’m not happy about being falsely accused of. The important thing is that this is not a website about me, but about the Pirates. I’d encourage everyone to take a breath, think about baseball and relax. My commitment to following the rules means no one here needs to worry about my politics. No one here needs to worry about my views on hot button social issues. No one here needs to worry about anything. My desire is the same as yours, that this place would be a welcoming place where we can talk about the Bucs. I will not be looking at any of you in light of behavior here in the past. I most certainly won’t be googling any of you. I will, and I will encourage all of us to, stick to baseball.
There was a sense among the site’s community that SB Nation went with Sproul Jr., a relative outsider, in order to help the site “stick to baseball” and clean up the comments. Like many comment sections, Bucs Dugout’s could get rowdy and off-topic. On Feb. 8, SB Nation’s MLB league manager Tanya Bondurant posted on Bucs Dugout and reminded everyone to behave themselves. Three days later, a commenter who goes by Chiburgh confessed that they were the one who had tattled on the site.
To me, everything hit rock bottom when a thread, I visited, contained words such as slut, abortion, masturbation, and a few others I can’t remember at this moment. Really? I thought this was a baseball site. Yes, I contacted SB Nation.
The sprawling comment thread that so offended Chiburgh can be found under this post. Gotta love message board drama.
In this context, it makes sense that SB Nation would look to someone who presents as a safe, conservative, sterile presence to take over the site. The guy they chose was suspended from Ligonier in 2015 for having an Ashley Madison account—his wife died in 2011 and he said he wished to stay faithful to her after her passing—and then lost his job in 2017 for drunk driving with a BAC of .175 (!!!) and with his children in the car (!!!). Still, Sproul Jr. introduced himself as someone who would deliver on the promise of making the site more wholesome and at worst “PG-13.” But many readers were concerned with how Sproul Jr. would enforce the SB Nation community guidelines—specifically, would they be able to post pictures of scantily clad women holding the Jolly Roger, or an inside-joke version of this which is a scantily clad woman holding a Jolly Rancher? When a reader asked about posting these memes, Sproul Jr. sounded like a stern monarch rather than someone overseeing a website staffed by lowly paid writers:
Two things- 1. We’ll have neither one and 2. We’ll have no arguments about it that involve me. I think it’s a silly hill for anyone to die on. Keeping things PG-13 is not meant to be a scientific term, but a general one. And we’re going to, if we must err, err on the side of the PG rather than the 13. Hope that is sufficiently clear. If you all must continue to argue the issue, feel free, But I won’t participate. Let’s talk about baseball.
For many, PG-13 was not sufficiently clear. One commenter wrote:
Who are you to judge what is PG-13? What does PG-13 mean? Do you really know? I own a family video store that sells DVDs and I have my own line of MOD dvds. I have Scooby Doo playing all day on a TV that is aimed at the street. Did you ever see how Daphne is drawn? How about Weird Science? Did you see the ladies in that that PG-13 film? Or how about Howard the Duck? Rated PG. Wait! There’s more! How about EVERY SINGLE DISNEY BEACH FILM! A lady, wearing a bikini and boots, holding a Pirate Flag is no more then I would see on the damn TV or walking around the beach in the summer time and wouldn’t even merit a glance by the Motion Picture Association of America. How about Spaceballs! “I knew it, I’m surrounded by assholes!” Rated PG oh by the way. Not even PG-13.
Yet you can tell us what is “not PG-13"? Seriously????
One would think that you should have given this a whole lot more thought then you have. If the guidelines are PG-13, then the SI model meets that criteria, unless you have something to prove that is beyond being a moderator, and intend to force your own views upon others.
The answer doesn’t even compute. I don’t care so I’m not going to die on this hill, but if you look at how PG and PG-13 is defined by the MPAA, and how they’ve rated films, Female breasts and nipples are allowed (briefly) in PG and PG-13 movies if they are in a non-sexual context.
So the Jolly Roger girl is welcome aboard. I don’t even know what the “SI Girl” refers to as I rarely comment any more. I used to comment profusely but all I ever did was swear profusely. And not just in exclamation, I mean AT people.* So, whatever, really. Just pointing out your answer contradicts itself, and answering your titular request.
Sproul Jr. also faced criticism for his qualifications, which amount mostly to writing self-published books on Christianity, and for his intolerant beliefs:
Much of his writing experience has been of transphobic and “abortion is murder” sort so I’m glad our benevolent Vox overlords have decided he’s a good choice for maintaining a safe space here.
A scan of his Twitter reveals this to be true:
Sproul Jr., and probably SB Nation and Vox Media, would argue that his personal and political views don’t matter because Bucs Dugout is about baseball and only baseball. The idea that anyone or any site can “stick to sports” has been so thoroughly trashed (including on SB Nation’s own site!) that it’s laughable they’d even try to haul it out of the garbage and use it as a defense. But even more ridiculous is the basic discrepancy between how Vox Media and SB Nation tout their progressive credentials, calling for inclusion and diversity and tolerance, and hiring a person who has made a career of marginalizing those who don’t subscribe to his rigid view of Christianity. In 2005, Sproul Jr. wrote:
As homosexuals enjoy their moment in the sun, pedophiles wait patiently in the wings, knowing that their time is coming. They are building momentum, as more and more men visit more and more websites, and sink lower and lower. If we were to empty every prison in America tomorrow, and then arrest every man consuming child pornography, there wouldn’t be enough room for them.
Of course, some of Sproul Jr.’s reputation comes from being the son of R.C. Sproul, a guy with even more radically abhorrent views, who thinks gay people “deserve to die.” However, it’s not fair to judge a man by the words of his father. Now, let’s take a look at the top comment on his introductory post.
Update (Friday, Feb. 22 at 2:22 p.m. ET): R.C. Sproul Jr. has been fired.
In a statement to Deadspin, SB Nation team brands director John Ness confirmed that R.C. Sproul Jr. “is no longer contracted with Vox Media or SB Nation.” Ness did not answer followup questions about whether a background check was conducted, why SB Nation decided to terminate him when it did, or who hired Sproul Jr. in the first place.
On Bucs Dugout, a brief post published today at 12:44 p.m. ET by “SB Nation Staff” said:
We have decided to terminate our contract with R.C. Sproul Jr. effective immediately and he will no longer contribute to Bucs Dugout. SB Nation always endeavors to create a welcoming and inclusive community for its readers.
Sproul Jr.’s tenure as site manager lasted two days.