Defending Rashard Mendenhall

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, you’ve probably heard, posted some rather interesting tweets on the killing of Osama bin Laden. I wrote about them on Wednesday, defending Mendenhall but not excusing a couple of the more inexcusable tweets.

Presenting himself as a 9/11 Truther? Not so good.

Seeming to be an Osama apologist? Also not so good.

But saying that there’s something wrong with celebrating death, with the lust for bloody vengeance, refusing to be a judge (which only his God can truly be), and encouraging thought instead of ignorance? What’s so wrong with that?

While defending Mendenhall, to a point, I made sure to stress that he needed to clarify his remarks, to explain himself. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because he appears to be thoughtful, peaceful man. I said that he should have been more careful, that Twitter isn’t the best place to express such nuanced thoughts. I said that we shouldn’t be too quick to judge. I admired him, in a way, but I was prepared to be more critical if he didn’t

Well, Mendenhall took to his blog (as reported by the Post-Gazette), a blog now with just a single post, for clarification. I encourage you to read his post in full. Here’s some of it:

I appreciate those of you who have decided to read this letter and attain a greater understanding of my recent twitter posts. I see how they have gotten misconstrued, and wanted to use this outlet as a way to clear up all things that do not truthfully represent myself, what I stand for personally, and any organization that I am a part of.

First, I want people to understand that I am not in support of Bin Laden, or against the USA. I understand how devastating 9/11 was to this country and to the people whose families were affected. Not just in the US, but families all over the world who had relatives in the World Trade Centers. My heart goes out to the troops who fight for our freedoms everyday, not being certain if they will have the opportunity to return home, and the families who watch their loved ones bravely go off to war.

And he responded specifically to objections to one of his two objectionable tweets, the one in which he said that people shouldn’t celebrate death but also in which he wondered how people could hate a man (Osama) they’d never even heard speak:

This controversial statement was something I said in response to the amount of joy I saw in the event of a murder. I don’t believe that this is an issue of politics or American pride; but one of religion, morality, and human ethics…

I wasn’t questioning Bin Laden’s evil acts. I believe that he will have to face God for what he has done. I was reflecting on our own hypocrisy. During 9/11 we watched in horror as parts of the world celebrated death on our soil. Earlier this week, parts of the world watched us in horror celebrating a man’s death.

And then he apologized for anything that might have been misconstrued:

Nothing I said was meant to stir up controversy. It was my way to generate conversation. In looking at my timeline in its entirety, everything that I’ve said is with the intent of expressing a wide array of ideas and generating open and honest discussions, something I believe we as American citizens should be able to do. Most opinions will not be fully agreed upon and are not meant to be. However, I believe every opinion should be respected or at least given some thought. I apologize for the timing as such a sensitive matter, but it was not meant to do harm. I apologize to anyone I unintentionally harmed with anything that I said, or any hurtful interpretation that was made and put in my name.

It was only meant to encourage anyone reading it to think.

With respect to the controversial tweet about hearing Osama’s side, I think that Mendenhall wrote inartfully. In other words, he just didn’t express himself well. His explanation helps, but obviously he should have been more careful with his words. Because, as it is, that tweet comes across not necessarily as pro-Osama but at least as deeply ignorant. (A lot of us heard Osama speak. A lot of us know the other side. But we still hated the man and were content, if not happy, to see him killed.)

Overall, Mendenhall’s clarification, which according to the Post-Gazette he wrote himself, shows him, like his Twitter feed generally, to be an intelligent, humble, and thoughtful man. In a world full of knee-jerk jingoism, including some of what we saw in the aftermath of the killing Sunday night, such a nuanced sense both of self and of the world is truly admirable. (And, in a pro athlete, truly remarkable.) I was a fan of the athlete before. Now I’m a fan of the man.

The problem, though, is that Mendenhall did not address his 9/11 Truther tweet: “We’ll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style.” Does he really think that something else was going on, that, say, the U.S. government was behind it, or is he merely musing on a distantly remote possibility? I’d certainly like to know, as would his other fans, as would pretty much everyone else for that matter. He deleted that specific tweet, and so maybe he doesn’t think he needs to explain it, but he must know that anything that goes public on a social networking site is likely to remain public no matter what, and that tweet remains out there regardless of whether or not it’s in his feed.

So, Rashard, will you not take the time to clarify it? You seem to be a good and decent man. You say you want us all to think. Well, then, give us more than a single tweet about 9/11 and tell us what you really think. I, for one, am certainly open to having a conversation about it, and I suspect that many others are as well. I know you’ve encountered a lot of knee-jerk jingoism already, but not all of us are like that. And while I will disagree with you if you really are a 9/11 Truther, and while most others will too, you would do well not to let that tweet stand as your only statement on the matter. I suspect your views on that are much more nuanced. So what are they?

(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)