Curt Schilling hits cyber-bullies with some chin music

Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling can do no wrong in some folks’ eyes around here for his performance in the team’s 2004 World Series win that fulfilled a generations-old quest. For others, his staunchly right-wing ideology and willingness to speak his mind makes him a target for many Democrats and liberals in the state who dismiss him as a bloviating and pampered athlete disconnected from real-world troubles.

But both sides of the political spectrum are holding Schilling up as a role model for his no-holds-barred, flamethrower response to a bunch of idiots (not the ones who were his teammates) who thought they could send vile, threatening messages through the anonymity of the Internet without fear of repercussions. Think again.

It started last week when Schilling, now an analyst for ESPN, sent out a message on Twitter congratulating his 17-year-old daughter for being admitted to a Rhode Island college where she will pitch on the school’s softball team. Though Schilling sent it out as a proud father, he expected some personal attacks on him because of his fame, his politics, and his business troubles in Rhode Island, as well as some probably frat-boy tweets about dating his daughter.

But it quickly went down the gutter when more than a handful of Twitter users, mostly young and mostly male, tweeted out messages containing graphic descriptions of rape and threats of sexual assault. The tweets upset Schilling’s daughter but they incensed her father, who launched an effort to out the worst offenders.

Schilling identified at least seven of the tweet senders and publicly unveiled two of their identities. One, a DJ at a community college in New Jersey, was suspended by the school, which is conducting an investigation. The other was a part-time ticket seller for the New York Yankees; the team quickly canned the recent college graduate.

Several were college athletes whose coaches kicked them off the team immediately.

All the Twitter accounts have been inactivated, though not by Twitter, which told Schilling there was nothing much they could do because it was protected speech. The tool that fueled their anonymous attacks – the Internet – also brought about their downfall and a warning from Schilling.

“If I was a deranged protective dad I could have been face to face with any of these people in less than 4 hours,” Schilling wrote on his blog 38Pitches. “I know every one of their names, their parents, where they go to school, what they do, what team they are on, their positions, stats, all of it. I had to do almost nothing to get ANY of that information because it is all public.”

Schilling’s efforts are being hailed as the opening of the door on one aspect of cyber-bullying that too often goes on undeterred.

At WEEI, John Tomase writes that Schilling is just the latest target of the online trolls but the first to fight back in a public way, mostly because he has the cache to draw attention to it. Tomase cites recent incidents regarding a video game developer who was a woman who received so many threats she withdrew from the PAX East gaming convention in Boston, as well as the sick photo-shopped tweets to Robin Williams’ daughter after her father committed suicide.

“When did this become OK?,” Tomase asks in his column. “The lack of civility, of basic human decency, isn’t just depressing, it’s demoralizing. There’s a generation being raised to believe that anything said online, no matter how rotten, mean-spirited, or repellant, somehow qualifies as none of the above.”

Some critics say Schilling should have seen it coming and the best way to prevent it is to turn off Twitter. Schilling and those who back him dismiss that completely, saying it’s like blaming the victim for being attacked and the passive approach is what has allowed cyber-bullying to get to this point.

“For all you tough guys out there who piss and moan with the ‘just turn it off’ or ‘just block’: Why on earth would I allow someone with zero honor, zero integrity and zero morals to dictate even 1 minute of my life?” Schilling wrote.

Some say it’s Schilling’s celebrity that is fueling the backlash, that if he was a retired plumber with a 17-year-old daughter, it would be no more than a blip to anyone outside their family. But, say many who are praising him, that’s what was needed, someone to draw the line in the sand regardless of who they were. The fact that it is someone who is well-known makes it all the better.

“Thanks to the unlikely arrival of retired pitcher Curt Schilling, there is now a spotlight on the kind of abuse many women endure as they participate in social media,” writes Jane McManus at ESPNW, the network’s site for women’s sports. “Women themselves have been trying to turn that light on since the early days of the listserv, but Schilling walked over and found the switch right away.”



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