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WASHINGTON – In the small lobby at the entrance of the home clubhouse at Nationals Park, Josh Hader, still in his All-Star Game uniform, sat in a puffy chair, his head tilted down, his eyes fixed on his phone’s screen, his thumbs the only thing moving. They swiped up, left thumb then right thumb, left then right, left then right, for a minute, then two, then three, before a security guard closed the door and cocooned Hader from the throng waiting outside to ask if he was a racist, sexist, bigoted homophobe.
Outside the clubhouse, about 15 feet away, stood Hader’s family, a dozen of whom had been wearing jerseys featuring the Milwaukee Brewers star reliever’s No. 71. One by one, they had peeled off the shirts. Some were handed National League All-Star jerseys with no name or number on the back. One man, wearing a navy-blue Hader shirsey, took it off, turned it inside out and put it back on, the tag sticking out from the neckline. The group ascended a ramp and stepped onto a bus for players’ families, an anticlimax to what was supposed to be a celebratory night.
After Hader allowed a three-run home run to Jean Segura, Twitter users unearthed a series of reprehensible messages Hader had sent from his account over an eight-month period when he was 17. One said: “I hate gay people.” He used the N-word at least three times, once quoting a rap lyric, twice not. He used a fist emoji followed by “white power lol” and another time tweeted, simply, “KKK.” Two months before the Baltimore Orioles drafted him in 2012, he wrote: “Need a bitch that can f—, cook, clean right.”
(Warning: Some of the language used below is offensive)
On a night in which Mike Trout and Aaron Judge hit home runs and the American League won an extra-innings game 8-6 with two more home runs, and during an All-Star break in which Bryce Harper won the Home Run Derby in dramatic fashion, the 24-year-old Hader monopolized the postgame conversation, the latest athlete whose social-media posts revealed a sordid side.
When the clubhouse opened, Hader stood in the far corner and waited for a three-deep semicircle to gather around him. His first words were: “It was something that happened when I was 17 years old. As a child, I was immature. I obviously said some things that were inexcusable. That doesn’t reflect on who I am as a person today. And that’s just what it is.” By the fifth question, he apologized: “I’m deeply sorry for what I’ve said and what’s been going on. And like I said, that doesn’t reflect any of my beliefs going on now.” Asked how his thoughts had changed, he said: “There’s nothing before that I believe now.” His rationalizations centered on his age when he sent the tweets: “When you’re a kid, you tweet what’s on your mind.”
His arms crossed, his long hair tied in a bun, Hader struggled through around four minutes of talking, his discomfort evident. He came here to celebrate an all-time first half, in which he struck out 89 batters in 48 innings and established himself as one of the game’s best left-handed relief pitchers. He left with questions about how his past informs his present, how Major League Baseball could consider discipline, how his teammates would react.
Other Brewers at the game stood by Hader. As he was leaving the stadium, Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress told Yahoo Sports: “He made a mistake when he was younger. Sometimes you’ve got to live with your past. That’s not him. He’ll apologize. He’ll make it right. I wish and I hope people don’t take it out of context. It was a young, stupid mistake. I’ve made plenty of those. He’s a great guy. He’s humble. He doesn’t try to make it seem like he’s someone he’s not. It’s just a mistake he made.”
Hader tried to explain the mistakes to Lorenzo Cain, another Brewers teammate who, like Jeffress, is black. Around 12:30 a.m., with only a handful of other players left in the clubhouse, Cain emerged from the shower. Hader approached his locker, wrapped an arm around Cain’s shoulder, leaned in toward his right ear and spoke for about a minute. Cain’s 3-year-old son, Cameron, sat in a chair in front of the next locker over, staring at a phone on his lap that played a video.
“I know Hader. He’s a great guy,” Cain said. “I know he’s a great teammate. I’m fine. Everybody will be OK. We’ll move on from this for sure.” His certitude was reinforced when he said: “We’re focused on playing baseball.”
The typical mechanics of a baseball postgame played out around Hader. Clubhouse attendants stuffed gear and All-Star Game mementos in his bags to send back to Milwaukee. Security officers escorted him out of the room and toward the players’ bus. As Hader reached the ramp, a fan tapped him on the shoulder. Hader turned around. The man wanted to take a picture of Hader with three young boys. He obliged and smiled for the photo.
At the same time, Twitter remained alight with reaction to the original tweets – which Hader deleted before locking his account, as did his girlfriend, Maria Macias, who in old tweets used the N-word and “faggot” a number of times – as well as his explanations.
“I was young, immature and stupid,” Hader said.
“That was seven years ago. I don’t remember too far back then,” Hader said.
“I was in high school. We’re still learning who we are in high school. You live and you learn. This mistake won’t happen again,” Hader said.
And when it was all over, when Hader had apologized for his racist, sexist, bigoted, homophobic tweets but said he was not a racist, sexist, bigoted homophobe, he wondered what was next. His life had changed in an instance after a home run allowed in an All-Star Game precipitated the revelation of an ugly history. Like NFL first-round pick Josh Allen and NBA first-round pick Donte DiVincenzo before him, Hader was tarred by his own words. He wondered if he needed to further apologize.
Hader looked at a Brewers employee here for the All-Star Game and said: “Should I tweet anything out?”
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