This year has taught me that time does not heal everything. I experienced the two worst moments of my life in a span of seven weeks: I lost my writing job and I lost my grandmother. Prior to this year I had never been fired and I had never been to a funeral. Time does help with the loss of a loved one, especially when you feel like that person was lost years ago due to the way Parkinson’s and dementia destroy their body and mind. However, I think the only way to get over losing a job is to get another one. Sounds simple enough, but as any freelancer writer knows, finding a full-time job is difficult.
Worse, what happens when you were “cancelled” by an angry Twitter mob that was out for blood? That’s the goal for the worst people who engage in this toxic cancel culture that has swept through social media in recent years. The mob identifies a person as problematic, digs up things from their past, drums up outrage, pressures the person’s employer to fire them, and then celebrates the demise. Apologies aren’t even wanted, let alone accepted anymore. Forgiveness is a thing of the past.
They basically want you to cease to exist.
This is not hyperbole as I can prove. For the small-but-angry mob of Boston sports fans that took me down, they love to tell people to die. They tweeted I was a “confirmed kill” after I got fired and they’ve given me the “RIP” nod on their bio. Honestly, it’s hard to say I’ve been living since this happened, which is why I added a Radiohead lyric (“I’m not living, I’m just killing time”) to my Twitter bio in that time.
No matter how much these people prefer that I kill myself, I refuse to let them win. So this is proof that I still know how to research and write, because it’s been five months since I’ve done the things I built my career around. I don’t feel I can confidently move on until I tell the real story. Some people might criticize me for playing the role of a victim here, but the facts show that that’s exactly what I was, and people need to recognize that it can happen to you someday too. I also already held myself accountable for my past actions the day I was fired. It’s time I expose the other side. Any sensible person in my position would want to call this out for what it was: a coordinated character assassination.
I want my story to serve as a warning about the many dangers of social media and the destructive path we seem to be setting ourselves on.
Part I: Recap
My hopes are that this reaches many people who are unfamiliar with me, so allow me to provide some background info. It’s been almost ten years since I wrote my first internet article about football statistics. Writing about the NFL has been a full-time career for me, a Pittsburgh-based analyst, since the summer of 2011. My work has been featured in many places, including NFL Network, Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, USA Today, and ESPN. I do not specialize in clickbait, top 10 ranking pieces, or slideshows with a couple of sentences. My preference is for heavily researched, fact-based analysis, and sometimes that riles people up when the data doesn’t agree with their fandom.
Debate has always been something I’ve embraced, but I have noticed more vitriol on social media in recent years. My resistance to blocking people used to be strong, but that really started to change in 2016 when personal attacks and threats started intensifying. Most of the accounts I block are NFL fans that make things personal, and I also block a large volume of MAGA regardless if they have ever interacted with me. Consider it a preemptive measure as I have been very anti-Trump since the beginning. Anyone who tries to lump me in with that lot is sorely mistaken.
2011 was also when I joined Twitter where I have since made nearly 140,000 tweets. I’ve always run a personal account, meaning I am known to tweet much more than stats and links to my work. I admit to being brutally honest, I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I have a dark sense of humor, so a risqué joke is not out of character. No one would have to follow me for long to understand that, and as I’ve gotten older — I’m 33 now — and attracted a larger following, I’ve done a better job of knowing what’s appropriate for the masses. There’s a reason so many of my tweets used against me by the mob were from 2013 or older when I was a freelancer making peanuts.
Speaking of those tweets… I was fired on the Thursday (1/31/2019) before the Super Bowl after about 20 past tweets were collected and displayed on Twitter on Wednesday in a thread that claimed I have a problem with race. I want to reiterate that none of these tweets included racial or homophobic slurs, hate speech, or threats of violence. The only swear word in any of the tweets was a singular use of “bullshit.” The closest thing to a tweet coming in an argument was with another (white) writer as we were debating, quite civilly, about the Redskins changing the team name and if it was as offensive as the n-word. A couple of tweets about my disdain for illegal fireworks were highlighted, but I still believe that if you associate the words “ghetto” or “section 8” with a specific race, that says more about your prejudice problems than anything about me.
Some of the tweets were taken so badly out of context that I refuse to ever apologize for those ones, such as a 2014 Oscars joke tweet referencing big winners Gravity and 12 Years a Slave, or clarifying the use of Africa in an article about where NFL talent comes from. Some of the tweets made no direct or even indirect mention of race, such as when I called ESPN’s First Take (with Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith) “loud, dumb garbage” because all they literally did was scream bad arguments at each other. Other tweets they used ignored the tweets in the same thread that better explain what I was actually saying. For example, it’s supposed to look racist that I called NBA player Rajon Rondo a thug, yet the full thread actually shows that I didn’t respect him or view him as a role model because I heard him call players on the court the n-word several times. Rondo’s history before and since that 2013 tweet proves I was not out of line in criticizing his character.
Frankly, the passage of time has only frustrated me more that so many of these tweets were included and their meanings were manipulated to paint a false picture of me. That’s not to say there weren’t any past transgressions that I wanted to apologize for (and did), but this was clearly a smear job. I think insensitive would be the best way to describe the collection of my tweets. When you look at the type of posts that have gotten people fired on social media before, it’s usually something really nasty. If you want to see truly offensive tweets, scroll down to Part II.
Getting fired is not an experience you can really understand until you go through it. I couldn’t eat or sleep for a few days after this started. I did my best to write about it immediately on here. I wanted to hold myself accountable for my past and acknowledge where I had shortcomings in the language I used, where I’ve improved, where I was being railroaded by this angry mob, and where I still needed to improve. I was never going to sweep these tweets under a rug and move on quickly. I also made sure to defend my character and speak out against the absurd allegations that I’m a racist and have problems with diversity. Everything from my personal relationships to cultural interests shows otherwise.
In the heat of the moment on January 31, I did not spend much time writing about the group of Patriots/Boston sports fans that collected and posted my tweets. I learned quickly that they were crude people with a history of taunting and harassing me because I was critical of their team and quarterback. I knew they faked outrage over these tweets and pushed my employers to fire me, and it worked.
However, by the Saturday night before the Super Bowl, I had dug up so many tweets from these people that showed just how obsessed they were with ending me and how coordinated their plan was. Those discoveries made me feel worse than I did on the day I was actually fired.
Part II: Know Your Enemy
If you work in sports media, you are bound to develop enemies over time as sports fans are a passionate bunch. If you cover all 32 teams in this country’s most popular league (NFL), then that opens you up to venom from tens of millions of people.
Many Twitter users prefer to use the Mute function instead of a block just to let the person wear themselves out by screaming into the void at you. I used to be one of those people, but my story might make you reconsider which one is usually the right move. I’ve heard it from Patriots fans on the internet for many years, but I’ve never dealt with a group this demented before. I’ll also point out that I have worked for two bosses who are from the Boston area and are Patriots fans, but they always respected my work and the validity of my analysis. It’s fine for fans to disagree, but it’s shocking how petty some would be to get this personal over someone while their team was making a third-straight Super Bowl appearance. I had most of the mob muted when this blew up in January, so I was previously aware that these people were awful. I just didn’t fully realize the extent to which they were harassing me for well over a year until after I lost my job.
No one gets to vote for morality police, but imagine having your reputation in regards to race and diversity dictated by a group of white guys who love Boston. Lucky me. This mob is a tight-knit group of Boston sports fans who call themselves BJBSJ. In their own words: “BJBSJ is a news gathering association of concerned citizens designed to combat hottakes, specifically as it pertains to Boston sports.” At the end of January, I called them out for not having a website, so they have since created one where they just further prove they’re terrible people who hide behind internet anonymity where they can trash people with no consequences. Would any legitimate news site have their posts done by people who hide behind screennames instead of an actual byline?
BJBSJ has continuously harassed me since 2017 on Twitter. I don’t care about the petty digs they would send me after a Patriots win or Steelers loss, but their intentions got much darker in late 2018. Not once prior to January 30 did this mob accuse me of racism as their tweet history with me clearly shows they were sour over things I’ve said about the Patriots and especially their idol Tom Brady. You could easily argue that the origins of this entire beef trace back to a bunch of white, Boston sports fans who are upset that I will always say that Peyton Manning is a better quarterback than Tom Brady. It’s that petty. By having so many of these people muted for so long, I wasn’t even egging them on in arguments to deepen their hatred for me. They are just naturally hateful people as you will see.
This mob largely operates in the open, and they had no problem naming their cohorts on January 30 after they finished posting my old tweets. BJBSJ people like to refer to me as “Cocksmear” or “Kochsmear” to make fun of my last name (Kacsmar). All that does is make my researching efforts easier to find their old tweets, and I’m sure they’ll go on a deleting spree once they read this.
Imagine trying to write an apology for old tweets when you know the only “offended” people are faking their outrage and are actively harassing you while you’re doing it. That was the position I was in on January 30 when this started as you can see from those tweets from their “lead writer” Craig Bernard (@defnotGG).
But this didn’t start the week of the Super Bowl. As another mob member (@mrags316) points out, it was “Sal” who started this crusade against me.
The “Sal” here is referring to @sofascout1, who has since been suspended by Twitter. I didn’t even get the honor of reporting him, but his tweets from November 8, 2018 show what kind of sick people I was dealing with here:
Nice to know I was the head of the operation’s odds-on favorite to commit suicide after losing my job over the Patriots. Of course, it wasn’t anything football related that did me in. It was these people getting to rewrite the narrative of my thoughts on race and diversity. The same people who love to tweet to others that they should die or kill themselves.
The next person I want to focus on is @Ironhead334, because he was by far the most dedicated member of the BJBSJ mob to pressure my employers on Twitter to take action against me. He also has a larger following (over 3,000 people) than the others.
While he puts up a good act here, some simple digging into him showed that he’s just as rotten as the rest of them. If Ironhead wants to talk about my questionable pattern of behavior regarding race and diversity, let’s talk about his pattern of tweeting like a future spree shooter.
This is the kind of hate-fueled threat that often goes unnoticed on social media since the people who follow a guy like this are frequently similar-minded individuals. We already see the pattern with this mob is that they want people to die, and this tweet was hardly a one-off on a bad day. His combination of media + idiots to get “mediots” is what this group is all about: harassing and threatening media members they disagree with.
It’s disturbing and unnerving that people like this can ruin your reputation, yet nothing happens to them when they tweet things far worse than anything you did. Here’s a small collection of tweets from the BJBSJ mob, flaunting their brand of harassment to defend their sports team. Notice how they turn from their usual offensive selves to masking as concerned citizens when tweeting at my employers to pressure them into firing me.
I archived all the tweets that were sent to or mentioned my employers and boss on 1/30-1/31. There wasn’t a high volume of them and most were from BJBSJ people. Again, these are not people with large followings, so this thing never blew up the way one might expect. As expected, a couple of the people to comment were Patriots fans who follow BJBSJ people and have their own history of hating me. I want to highlight one of those fans: @PatriotsSBLII. He did his part to help get me fired:
Of course, he would be perfect BJBSJ material with his past tweets. Again, notice how I wasn’t even engaging him, but I was missing out on his attacks because I had him muted when he should have been blocked.
Finally, I want to mention the person who posted my tweets and started the false narrative that I’m racist: @designatedkyle. He thinks he’s smarter than the others by changing his username (@dontaboomhauer below), blocking me, and deleting some old tweets of his own, but I have what I need on him. I even got some help from a Twitter user who provoked him the day the Robert Kraft prostitution story broke, and Kyle here showed his true BJBSJ colors before deleting the tweet:
If throwing stones in a glass house was an Olympic sport, the BJBSJ crew would win every gold medal possible.
I have never claimed to be a perfect angel on Twitter. I’m not Fred Rogers; I don’t get along with everybody. I may be many things, but I am not racist, I don’t have a problem with diversity, and I don’t get off by tweeting about how so and so should die. The fact is you could dig through my tweets and come up with a dozen prefaced with “Does Scott Kacsmar have a problem with white people?” It would be another ludicrous conclusion to reach, but it could be done when you get to spin the narrative you want.
I have always judged people by character, not their color. The BJBSJ mob’s character is all about defending Boston sports by means of telling everyone who disagrees with them to die. I feel like I was ratted out for jaywalking by a group of bank robbers who just pulled off an armed robbery, and I’m the only one facing any consequences. I also discovered that they’re still trying to get people in trouble while having zero accountability for their own hateful words.
This has to stop. My preference is an agreement to eternally hate one another in silence. But if they’re going to continue trying to prevent me from having a livelihood, then I will pursue legal action. They can delete the tweets I exposed, but I (and my attorney) have the screenshots and links. I will carry this out further if I have to, but I really just want to get better and move on with my life.
Part III: My Anxiety, My Motivation
Some may be wondering why it took me this long to write this. February was a really difficult month as I had to figure out how to survive my new circumstances. I felt like a leper on Twitter and largely avoided it in February and March. Commenting on football (or anything really) felt pointless to me. It kind of helped that the Super Bowl was a horrible game and the offseason drama, particularly involving my hometown Steelers, was horrendous (thanks, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown). I hadn’t taken a break from covering football since 2011, so some away time was needed to be honest.
March brought a case of the flu that destroyed me for a couple of weeks. By the time I had finally gotten over that, my beloved grandmother passed away on St. Patrick’s Day after a long battle with Parkinson’s-dementia. Even going back to elementary school I always had this feeling that the first funeral I would attend would be for her, and that’s exactly what happened. I can honestly say the two worst moments of my life happened not even 50 days apart. I’m thankful to have my mom and a few close friends — special mention to the trio of incredible people I text with daily (you know who you are) — help me get through this year. Depression was only natural at that point, but I never let it get the best of me. That would be letting the mob win.
I wanted to let the NFL draft play out in April as I figured sites would be busy focusing on that. I also had to learn about defamation, libel and character assassination as several people told me I need to look into pursuing legal action. In May, I again had a multi-week illness with a sinus infection. Of course that had to happen right after I bragged about outgrowing those sinus problems. I also inquired about a job with a large company, but was ghosted when an answer would have taken a minute at most from the person. That certainly got me worried. Did this person Google me and not like what they read, or are they just lazy at their job? I don’t know.
Then we hit June. I felt healthier and happier. I want to find a job, but the fear of rejection is real. I have a couple of opportunities I think would be great for me, but I don’t want to burn those bridges right away as I feel like I have to get some experience at explaining what happened first. I still receive the occasional question about an article I would have done for my former employer. It’s awkward and embarrassing to tell the truth that I no longer work for that company. After I reply, anxiety usually amps up as I assume the person flocks to Google to find out what happened from the limited resources available.
Will they view me as a racist? Will they want nothing to do with me going forward? Those are the same two questions I have for essentially everyone that I tell about how I lost my job. Five months later, I live with this feeling that a lot of people still really don’t know what happened, and the uncertainty with how they will react to it is what keeps me nervous.
There’s also the case of Jon Ledyard that really influenced my decision to write this. Jon is another NFL writer from Pittsburgh, though I should clarify that we really don’t know each other at all. I do know that he made some offensive tweets years ago and he apologized for them. They resurfaced this year — one was actually tweeted by the company account in an odd event (hacked?) — and he was suspended before moving on from that company. The thought of getting punished twice for the same offense should be frightening to anyone. These aren’t criminal cases so it’s not like double jeopardy applies, but after seeing that, I knew I had to write something definitive so this same angry mob doesn’t try to ruin me at the next job.
Part IV/Conclusion: Everyone’s Cancelled
Who needs nuclear war or sentient robots to end humanity? We’re doing just fine destroying each other on social media.
The night before Super Bowl LIII is when I first thought that social media was going to be our path to destruction. I felt this after I found myself digging for old, offensive tweets — not only from people I don’t like, but writers and colleagues I respect to see if they had anything out there. Some of you did too, so if you’ve learned anything from my story, clean up your old messes first, especially if you’re going to criticize someone else for an old tweet.
The youthful creators of social media likely underestimated just how dangerous this world can get when you make instant interaction with a wide audience so easy. Smartphones have only added to the excess and addiction while giving everyone a voice, a camera, and a platform to turn every waking moment into potential news.
One thing the creators should have better foreseen was that if you give humans this platform, many are going to use it with bad intentions. From election interference to cyber bullying to providing communities for terrorists/incels/hate groups to flourish, there are many negative outcomes associated with these platforms. We also see that companies such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have struggled in handling problematic users. Hatred is always trending and has been quite profitable, and it’s only gotten worse as people actively find ways to ruin others on social media.
We all have to think about being better people on social media. A problem I recognized I had is feeling the need to pass time with commercials during live sports events with edgy jokes. A good chunk of my insensitive tweets were made in that exact situation, so that’s something I have to continue being mindful of for sure. More often than not, the best thing you can do is just not tweet. Go back to saying nothing like you did for years before you had that damn phone in your hand.
Followers are really not friends. When you have a thought to share that could be deemed controversial, there’s a reason that only used to be told in person to close friends or family. These people knew you well, had your back and understood when you were being serious or not. This worked well enough for humanity for centuries. Today, some people just can’t help themselves from tweeting the first offensive thing that comes to mind. Even The Onion has slipped up before. Even an inside joke with a long-time follower can be tricky to do outside of private messages these days. You just never know who is going to find it and claim outrage (fake or not).
Not only are followers usually not friends, but the weird twist that social media adds is that they include your enemies. People absolutely will follow someone they hate. That’s why I’ve said using block is better than mute in the long run. Some of these people are just waiting for you to slip up so they can get together with like-minded individuals and ruin you. We used to have privacy from our enemies, but that’s simply not how social media works.
In the past, mostly celebrities dealt with being cancelled by angry mobs. Actor Mel Gibson went on a racist tirade in 2010, but he still had money to survive on until 2016 when he garnered respect again for his direction of Hacksaw Ridge. Now random, everyday people are the target of these mobs. These people don’t have Mel Gibson money. They can’t just follow the celebrity solution and go away for years. If someone commits an actual crime then it should be dealt with by law, but usually it’s just something that results in a hanging in the court of public opinion.
Unfortunately, laws are not up to snuff yet for social media either. People can hide behind the first amendment and call someone a racist without any proof and there’s no consequence for that person. Meanwhile, it can obviously have huge consequences for the accused. As my story shows, you can harass someone online, manipulate the meaning of their tweets, pressure their employer to fire them and get away with it all. This will happen to more people unless something is done there.
When I lost my job, I received a lot of encouraging direct messages from people who still wanted to support me. One of the best messages that really put things in perspective for me came from an African-American follower. He said “that anyone can weaponize racial grievances. As a black man, it especially hurts because I don’t think this will be the last example of a privileged group using the legitimate issues of racial grievances for their own petty gain, with no thought as to the real world consequences of everyday racism people of color go through.”
He’s absolutely right. True social activists did not take me down. Butt-hurt Boston sports fans did because they realized in 2019 that making someone look racist is the easiest way to cancel them. The fake outrage undermines the real racial injustices that go on in this country every day. People are still being denied employment opportunities and fair treatment from law enforcement because of the color of their skin. I once tweeted a picture of WWE wrestler Akeem the African Dream and said “Definition of jive.” It’s insulting to equate that with actual racism.
The week I was fired was a particularly wild one with so much racial tension that it only added to my fear of finding future employment. The Jussie Smollett case started the day before my tweets were posted. The day after I was fired, Virginia governor Ralph Northam’s yearbook picture controversy started with blackface. At least people weren’t buying the professor who claimed Mary Poppins is a racist movie because of the soot/chimney scene that qualifies as blackface. The week finally ended with actor Liam Neeson’s confession of wanting to commit a hate crime decades ago. Throw in the Super Bowl and I was a footnote at best that week. However, the initial reaction to the Smollett case shows how impactful it can be to weaponize racism. They allegedly faked a hate crime because they knew nothing would grab headlines and rile this country up more than a gay black man being assaulted by Trump supporters. A hoax like that gives terrible people such as Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson all the proof they need to claim future, real crimes are also hoaxes.
Speaking of hoaxes, let’s remember another fake outrage campaign from a group of terrible people that only wanted to smear someone because of his opinion on an unrelated topic. Director James Gunn lost his job (temporarily) with Disney after his old tweets about pedophilia and rape jokes were dug up by alt-right people with ties to Pizzagate. These people did not target Gunn because they were offended by his tweets. They did it because he was publicly anti-Trump. Tribalism might be the biggest problem in this country today, and sports and politics are two of the worst factions for that. People are trying to end careers every day because of disagreements in those areas. Fortunately, some common sense prevailed and Gunn, who had cleaned up his act over the years, returned at Disney to direct the next Guardians of the Galaxy sequel.
It’s also problematic that people do not think change is possible. Actor Kevin Hart did not host the Oscars this year after old homophobic tweets resurfaced from 2011 and earlier when Hart was in his early thirties. Now almost 40, is it not reasonable that Hart’s viewpoint on his son’s sexuality could have changed after years of fatherhood? Speaking as a millennial myself, many of us used to say “that’s gay” in reference to something being stupid or dumb. I got older, realized it wasn’t the right word to use in that situation, and I haven’t used the phrase in years. I don’t really hear others use it like that anymore either. I can say my stance on the death penalty has changed from where it was five years ago or so. I am more in favor of life sentences now. I also don’t feel the same way about the Redskins debate that was the subject of a couple of my 2014 insensitive tweets. I would support changing the name now as “keeping with tradition” is a shoddy argument to use for keeping it. Nostalgia and tradition are part of the reason we still have Confederate statues when we shouldn’t. People should always strive to be better, learn more, and new knowledge can certainly lead to change.
I linked to this blog post earlier, but I want to highlight again what I wrote after Trump won the 2016 election. Anyone who reads that should see that my thoughts on race and diversity are not problematic. I wish I would have remembered that piece five months ago and used that in lieu of rushing out an apology under absurd circumstances. The fact that my insensitive tweets weren’t recent should hopefully show people that I have changed, but all I can do to further prove that is being better moving forward.
We seem to be headed down a very dangerous path where people don’t want anyone to get a second chance in life. Mess up one time and you are done according to the Twitterverse. Life after prison for convicted felons is already bad enough in this country, but what’s going to happen when average people are cancelled for non-crimes and they can’t find any other work? If we continue holding people to a ridiculous one-and-done standard, many lives are just going to go to waste. We’ll have purgatory on Earth.
You’re even running out of time to tell me to go flip burgers, because the robots will eventually take over those jobs from humans. Technology is rapidly changing our world, and we are struggling with how to handle social media so far. I want to make it clear that I think social media has many positives too. Getting a reply from an entertainer you’ve been a fan of since high school will always be exciting. Finding out you have readers in Denmark and various other places in the world is always humbling. My last job likely wouldn’t have come to fruition without growing a readership largely through Twitter. It’s just undeniable that there are serious consequences that can come from using social media too, and it may only get worse with deepfake videos and our gravitation towards tribalism. We need to spend more time communicating with people we actually like.
My future is almost as uncertain as it was five months ago. I have received an interesting offer despite the fact that I haven’t put myself out there on the job market yet. That’s the next step after finally getting this off my chest.
I’m not living
I’m just killing time
Now it’s July. I want to get back to living, and hopefully, in time, there will be healing too.