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Socially Awkward

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“Somebody needs to tell Rashard to lay off the Twitter for a bit.” That was the text that PSR contributing writer Anthony Jaskulski sent to me earlier this month, shortly after hearing the the news about Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall and his less-than-well-thought-out posts on the social media website Twitter.

By now, we're all familiar with Mendenhall's thoughts on Osama bin Laden, 9-11, the NFL Lockout, the slave-trade and other matters.

His comments are protected by the First Amendment; obviously, Rashard Mendenhall has every right to say whatever he feels. Even if no one asks. The problem is—just as obviously—that others have every right to react to his comments.

And Jaskulski, no doubt sensing the inevitable fan backlash that would soon be at Mendenhall's doorstep, asked me a question: “Does this impact him just as much as the Big Ben incident impacted Roethlisberger?”

A legit question.

My first thought was, “Of course not. Ben—not to mention James Harrison and Santonio Holmes—used actions, not merely words. Other human beings were actually hurt in the process.”

But before I could even get that response out, I received another text from another PSR writer: “If Obama, or Biden, or some other high-ranking official said what Mendenhall said, I could understand the outcry. But an NFL running back?”

Another legit point. Because while I disagreed with nearly everything Mendenhall said—while at the same time respecting his right to say it—I agreed with the idea that we shouldn't care too much about the comments. After all, the guy's job is to tuck a leather ball under his arm and either run over or away from 300-pound freaks of nature. Why should we care what Rashard Mendenhall thinks about the price of tea in China?

Because as another friend pointed out, his comments “kind of kill the feeling of country that people want to embrace."

Right on yet again. Mendenhall's comments absolutely fly in the face of unity, at a time when legitimate moments of patriotism are few and far between.

Perhaps that's what bothered fans the most.

And make no mistake, Steelers fans did indeed care and they were indeed bothered. Fan reaction came hot and heavy: flooding local call-in shows, suggesting that Mendenhall be waived, cut, traded or otherwise ushered out of town. Local reaction—at least in the immediate aftermath—was just as angry as it was in the days following Roethlisberger's incident(s) and much more so than it was following Harrison's domestic violence accusation or any one of Santonio Holmes multiple arrests.

His endorsements took a hit as well, as Champion dropped him as a spokesperson.

Even Mendenhall's boss felt compelled to react.

“I have not spoken with Rashard, so it is hard to explain or even comprehend what he meant,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said.

I can't imagine that Mendenhall's comments will impact his job status with the Steelers. After all, as yet another friend said, it's not as if “he tipped off Hitler about Normandy.”

He just said some stupid stuff.

And, of course, he had the forum to do it. Twitter and Facebook and other social media sites allow us to effortlessly stay in touch with friends and family and so many others in a hectic world that is becoming more and more fast-paced by the minute. But they also allow our most basic, knee-jerk reactions to be seen by the world, completely unfiltered.

Turns out George Orwell was wrong. The government doesn't need to watch over us, Big Brother-style, in order to find out our deep dark secrets. All they need to do is "friend" us. We'll take care of the rest ourselves.

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