Gawker’s Glass House

First, yes, I know Gawker is dead. The tyranny of their seemingly relentless invasion of privacy is over thankfully and private citizens have been done a great service by the people who took them down. The portfolio of websites were picked up by Univision Communications but that is nowhere near as catchy a title. Still, we aim for accuracy in all things we do. Glad that’s out the way.

So, those of you who follow such things will recall that a few days ago Compete, an esports focused vertical that is a joint venture between websites Deadspin and Kotaku, published a piece about ESPN reporter Jacob Wolf. Wolf had been covering a story about professional Overwatch player Timo “Taimou” Kettunen who had made homophobic slurs and fans of the player’s team, Dallas Fuel, wasted no time in searching for anything to discredit Wolf. And to a certain extent they found it… Wolf had used similar words in the past and had left them up on his Twitter history. A few points to note… Wolf was as young as 13 when some of these things were said, they were said among friends that made up a handful of followers he had at the time, he wasn’t a public person and certainly did not work for ESPN when they were said. Still, for whatever reason Compete decided that Wolf’s stupidity was the bigger part of the story and they mercilessly skewered him and made sure his employers knew all about it.

The article was laden with some pretty troublesome language if it was striving for objectivity. They barely masked their contempt for the subject matter with a line like “However, this is esports,” the implication being its more of a freak show than mainstream sports, which is ludicrous by any stretch. Maybe Young doesn’t like his new beat… After all he is a serious sports journalist who has published hundreds of articles at Deadspin. How galling to have to write about people playing video games for a living. Whatever his personal feelings he might do well to remember that esports is a growth industry and there’s a reason his employers have decided to desperately try and get some attention from the demographic. Perhaps try not to needlessly isolate that audience while at the same time hoping they click on whatever gibberish you throw out…

The editorialising that accompanied the report is also pretty embarrassing. After Wolf deleted the tweets Young added in parentheses “interestingly, while Wolf deleted most of his “faggot” and “nigga” tweets, he’s still left up about ten that use “cunt.” Either he’s not aware of them, or has decided that there’s a hierarchy of slurs.” I’ll happily assist Young with this one… There IS a hierarchy of slurs, of course there is. Using the word slur, which simply means insult, to try and add negative weight to a word is a fairly transparent signal of intention but let’s hold on to that for a moment. It’ll be important later. The reality is that word isn’t on par with a word that has only existed to denigrate an entire race of people since it came into being. Still, I can’t blame an American sports journalist for not knowing the history of a word that first appeared in print in 1390, especially when he’s in a towering moral frenzy.

The assertion that “cunt” is on par with racist and homophobic slurs seems beyond a stretch. “Cunt” is a word that is used casually in the UK, Australia and certain parts of America. In a study of geotagged tweets it was the second most commonly used insult after “asshole” in Maine. That’s a lot of people perpetrating what Young is trying to imply is hate speech. But it isn’t hate speech and it’s a nonsensical standard to even try and apply, which I suspect Young knows. Not even the people who cut Young his paycheck seem to agree because their vertical geared towards female interests published a piece saying as much in 2013. They also declared themselves delighted at various iterations of the word being entered into the dictionary, presumably for every day usage.
Want to go further back, before Young’s time? They asked why the word “cunt” was a big deal in 2007. 

Still, it’s probably too much to ask that Young get on the same political page as everyone at his sprawling organisation, especially given some of that was written in a time before we had all lost our collective minds. And equally, there’s no way he was just being malicious and over exaggerating the nature of the word in a bid to try and scupper a rival reporter from a rival publication in a space they desperately want to get a foothold in. Hoo boy, that would be a wild conspiracy theory and certainly not the type of targeted journalism that these types would engage in. No. That is an outrageous assertion however it might look on the surface and I will not allow it to be said.

Young also said “Taimou saying that is bad; Wolf using those words from 2013-2015 is also bad.” This, from a reporter who before publishing this story decided to delete all of his tweets prior to this year for reasons he will not comment on. And honestly, in this climate of the ridiculous it’s probably a smart decision, because anything you’ve said in the past will be retroactively held up to today’s standard, whatever the context, and you the adult may well be punished for something you the child did long, long ago.

Since as Young had intelligently insulated himself against being caught in the headlock of hypocrisy I decided to go through the tweets of some of his colleagues. I’ll remind you of what he told this publication when we reached out for comment on his reporting. He seemed to lay the blame at ESPN’s doorstep stating “Either ESPN knew that they hired someone who frequently and publicly called people “fag” “cunt” and “nigga,” or they didn’t fully vet a teenager who they were hiring for a role that is usually filled by adults.” So, if we follow this logically it would be the fault of the company he works for if we found anyone engaging in similar “transgressions” to Wolf. And we did. I’m sure Young will be vocal about this… Hell, I’m sure he’ll hand in his resignation in outrage.

To be clear I do not consider this an act of journalism. I can think of few things lazier than using the advanced Twitter search function to try and trap someone in a “gotcha” moment with something they said in the past, completely divorced from the context of who and where they are today. This type of reporting is a symptom of a much larger problem with social media and the current political landscape. Rather I hope this illustrates that no human being can be expected to have a “clean ledger” in an age of social media and not even the new high-priests of woke are in a position to be the ones passing judgment on others. I agree, some things are unacceptable, no doubt, but context has to be key or we can all be found of guilty of anything at any time.

I was generous and left out any uses of the three slurs Wolf had used that were said in the context of condemning them. This isn’t always a generosity extended by publications like this, so I hope they will appreciate that much. Here’s a cross section of my findings, which are far from exhaustive because, honestly, it was an incredibly tedious exercise just to make this point. And also remember, these are not my standards but the standards set out by Dennis Young and Compete.

Riley MacLeod, managing editor, made jokes using the word “fag” in 2014 and 2015.

Their News Editor, Jason Scheier, also used the word “fag” while joking about Call of Duty in 2011.

Editor at Large Kirk Hamilton considered the use of the word cunt to be “epic” when he tweeted about John Stewart using it and he had also tweeted out images of a parody band called “Motley Jew,” where the singer had the word “kike” (a known Jewish slur) on his hat.

Deputy Editor Patricia Hernandez seemed amused by the use of the word “cunt” in conversation. She did not seem to think of it as a slur.

Luke Plunkett, Kotaku Editor for Oceania, seems to have not got the internal memo about what language is acceptable and isn’t. He said that use of the word “faggot” was his favourite piece of abuse when hurled at him in 2010, he also used the word “cunt” repeatedly. Instances in 2014 three times , 2015 and 2016 . Last year he also made what we assume is a satirical joke stating anyone who was left to their own devices while snowed in would conclude that “Jews are bad.”

Staff Writer Heather Alexandra, also used the word cunt on Twitter on two occasions both of them in 2015 .

Chris Person, Video Producer, also seems comfortable with use of the word cunt. He used it to describe people on two occasions in 2016 and at the start of the year. He also made a joke comparing Bernie Sanders to Hitler and referred to Sanders as “that Jew from Brooklyn.” He used the word “faggot” when making a joke about Florida and pink towels.

Kotaku contributor Zachary Zwiezen evidently doesn’t believe the word “cunt” is a slur. He made that very point here and he also professed his love of a series of YouTube videos called “Cunt Life.” He also seems to take no issued with use of the word “faggot” as he used it in 2009 to call out someone called Eli, possibly from the movie There Will Be Blood, and used it in response to a friend and also said someone who was behind on the latest season of Doctor Who was one.

Contributor S.E. Doster uses the word cunt so frequently on their Twitter we have to simply present the entire search.

Illustrator Sam Woolley made a joke in 2012 about “skinny black kids with braids” enjoying being called “2 Chainz” urging his audience to go out and try it.  I’m sure there is an uncharitable, dare I say Kotaku-esque, interpretation of this joke. Feel free to make it yourselves. I’ll be honest, I actually felt this was kind of racist and I don’t think you should be shouting anything at kids just minding their own business.

Anyway, you can see here that digging into people’s social media past can certainly throw up things they probably aren’t proud of, or would feel awkward about defending, or maybe even are rightly ashamed of and would apologise for today. I don’t know why this is the chosen battlefield of the new wave of journalists and speaking as someone whose own transgressions have always been front and centre for all to see I wish the sniping about who is fit to do this job would stop. Jacob Wolf isn’t a racist, or a homophobe, nor does he hate women… He was a dumb kid who tried to be edgy on the internet and forgot he was once that person when he turned into something better, as most of us do. He’s not a danger to anybody, he’s not corrupt, he doesn’t wield power over the vulnerable and a large part of his work is about holding people who do accountable. He is the leading journalist in the space and as such he’s invaluable to esports. It’d be a travesty if we lost him over this, especially after an earnest apology. I’ll never condone racism, sexism or homophobia but I also think such allegations need much firmer proof than what was laid out.

Back to Compete and friends… Management for their websites informed us that it was not policy to exhaustively vet the social media accounts of employees or contributors nor could they say what any penalties would be for using such words. Perhaps Young has some suggestions he can make to the higher-ups.

I’m obviously firmly in the camp of “no action required.” I don’t believe any of these people listed are homophobic, or racist, or misogynistic. I’m sure they are just regular people who occasionally make jokes among friends with language designed to spice up the humour and sometimes they make a misjudged step. And maybe they need to think about the fact Twitter is a public platform and not a barroom table but it’s not for me to make that decision. I don’t think these tweets discredit their work (although their work frequently does that for them) and I don’t think these people have any ill intention beyond the person they set in their crosshairs when they write these pieces. I genuinely believe they think they are making a difference and trying to make the world a better place. I commend that sentiment even if I loathe their chosen methodology.

Honestly, I just want the childish, agenda driven hitpieces to stop and for bigger issues to be tackled. Signs in a crowd, stupid tweets from kids, cartoon frogs, disingenuous selective critique of demographics… There are real bad people involved in esports that deserve the attention. There are people engaged in predatory practices in an industry populated by young adults. There are companies that frequently take the money and run leaving the people who believed their lies miserable and in debt. There are corporations looking to monopolise something that needs its grass roots and organic growth, reducing consumers to numbers in a spreadsheet. We’ve had stories of sexual harassment start to break in the wake of the #metoo movement.  If you can do it, get off that advanced search function and do some real work. Esports needs that more than what you’re doing right now.