Earlier this year, I wrote a piece explaining why I believe it is time for call-out culture to go the way of the dinosaurs. One of the complaints I had considered discussing in that piece was the role that the news media has played in the propagation of that culture. In the end, I chose to leave that portion of my post on the cutting room floor because most of the worst examples of call-out culture’s dark side had originated on social media, not the front pages of any major newspaper or the website of any popular cable news outlet.
After this past Saturday night, I no longer have that excuse.
Just hours after Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray won the Heisman Trophy — college football’s most prestigious annual award — a few offensive tweets Murray posted when he was fifteen years old became the subject of an article for USA Today.
The tweets were bad. There’s no question about that. But the decision to run with that particular story at that particular moment reeks of the same vindictiveness that has come to define the worst aspects of call-out culture. We’re at a point now where some mainstream media outlets are making a game out of drudging up years-old mistakes and throwing them in the faces of the public figures who made them, many of whom have undoubtedly learned from those mistakes already and have carried those lessons with them into adulthood. Back in my day — well, more like three or four years ago — we called this “tabloid journalism.” Now we just call it journalism.
Kyler Murray’s six-year-old tweets are not a legitimate news story, in my opinion. There was no good reason for any outlet to report on them at all, let alone on what was bound to be one of the biggest nights of Murray’s life. He was fifteen years old when he made those tweets. Short of confessing to murder, there is virtually nothing that any fifteen-year-old can tweet for which they should be publicly eviscerated six years later. There just isn’t.
I don’t care whether you’re a man or a woman, a liberal or a conservative, black or white, rich or poor, gay or straight; if you’re an adult now, then you, like Murray, were a teenager once, too. You did things back then that you would never do now. You said things back then that you would never say now. And the person you were back then is not the same person you are now. That much I can promise you. The question is, do you feel you should be forced to experience the same treatment that Murray has been subjected to? Do you think that your current self deserves to be shamed and humiliated by the national news media for whatever terrible things you said in your youth?
I don’t believe you do. And I myself don’t feel you deserve that treament because that version of yourself is dead and buried. A piece of it surely stays with you, as it always will. But your teenage self is gone, and it isn’t coming back. You’re a human being, and as such, you’re trapped in a perpetual state of change. Tomorrow, you will be a different person than you are today. Today, you’re a different person than you were yesterday. Those differences may be subtle, but they’re just as real as the more obvious differences that exist between the person you are now and the person you were at fifteen years of age.
Now if there is evidence that Kyler Murray the college quarterback feels the same way about LGBTQ people as Kyler Murray the teenager appears to have felt, then we most certainly have something to talk about. But as far as I’m aware, there is no evidence that that’s the case. For Murray’s part, he has apologized for the past tweets and says they do not reflect his feelings or beliefs today. If anyone has any reason to question his sincerity — if there is proof that he harbors any malicious and bigoted opinions of LGBTQ people — let them share it. Otherwise, I see no reason to doubt him.
I know there are some who will disagree with me quite strongly on this topic, particularly those who believe that accountability doesn’t have an expiration date. With that in mind, I should point out that I don’t believe that Murray or any other adult should ever get a free pass for the things they say and do as adults. But we’re not talking about the words of an adult. We’re talking about the words of a juvenile.
That being said, I don’t believe that juveniles should necessarily get a free pass for their bad behaviors, either. In fact, I believe that there are certain actions which should remain punishable long after they’ve been committed. I also believe that fifteen-year-olds who make bigoted remarks about any demographic should be confronted and corrected, preferably by a parent, guardian, or some other adult figure who is invested in that teenager’s moral and intellectual development.
However, I do believe that the vast majority of mistakes we make as teenagers should not be held over our heads as adults, and that’s especially true when we’re talking about words as opposed to actions. I would also argue that one of the reasons this nation is as divided as it is right now is because we no longer hold mercy and forgiveness in high regard. If we did, I doubt that USA Today or any other serious media outlet would have reported on Murray’s tweets.
In conclusion, I have a proposal to make. When I open up the morning paper and see stories about juveniles being charged with crimes, the names of those juveniles are frequently withheld. My suggestion is that the media voluntarily adopt a similar unwritten rule that says they will no longer report on controversial social media posts by juveniles even when those juveniles enter adulthood and become public figures. Better yet, how about extending that to adult public figures if and when the offensive posts were made ten or more years ago? We’ll call it the “Murray rule.” Or maybe the “social media mercy rule.” Whatever works. As long as it stops mainstream media outlets from digging people’s teenaged skeletons out of their online closets and putting those skeletons on display for everyone to see, you can call it whatever you want. It makes no difference to me.