For a brief while on the mound Sunday, Sean Newcomb stood atop the world. The young Atlanta Braves pitcher had thrown more than eight scoreless innings and allowed zero hits — until, with just one strike left to close it out, a line-drive single derailed his bid for the Braves' first no-hitter in a quarter-century.
Yet even as the 25-year-old starter walked back to the bench, deflated as the crowd clapped around him, another unpleasant reality was awaiting him.
As the game unfolded, social media sleuths were unearthing and circulating several of his old tweets that used offensive language. Posted in 2011 and 2012 when Newcomb was in his late teens, the tweets featured racist and homophobic slurs, including the N-word and, more frequently, a certain other F-word.
"I just wanted to apologize for any insensitive material," Newcomb told reporters shortly after Sunday's game, according to The Associated Press. "It was a long time ago, six or seven years ago, saying some stupid stuff with friends."
Newcomb's apology for his conduct on social media wasn't the first such sorry uttered by a major leaguer in recent weeks — or even the last that day.
Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader's own inflammatory tweets surfaced earlier this month while he pitched in the MLB All-Star Game. The league did not fine or suspend Hader, 24, for his racist and homophobic language, which was also posted on Twitter in 2011 and 2012. Rather, officials mandated that Hader, who publicly apologized, undergo "sensitivity training" and MLB "diversity and inclusion initiatives."
Brewers fans gave Hader a standing ovation the next time he took the mound at home, however.
By Sunday evening, the cycle of outrage and apology had reached Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner, 25, who also found his own years-old, ugly comments recirculating on social media after Newcomb's. Turner's tweets — also posted in 2011 and 2012 — used similarly derogatory language toward black and LGBT people.
"There are no excuses for my insensitive and offensive language on Twitter. I am sincerely sorry for those tweets and apologize wholeheartedly," Turner said Sunday in a statement emailed to NPR by the Nationals organization. "I believe people who know me understand those regrettable actions do not reflect my values or who I am."
Mike Rizzo, the Nationals' general manager and president of baseball operations, called Turner's tweets "inexcusable," noting that the organization "does not condone discrimination in any form." Nevertheless, Rizzo voiced confidence in Turner's recent behavior.
"Trea has been a good teammate and model citizen in our clubhouse," Rizzo said in a statement, "and these comments are not indicative of how he has conducted himself while part of our team."
As The Washington Post notes, fan rivalries may have played a role in the revelations about Newcomb and Turner, whose Braves and Nationals compete in the same division. The newspaper observes that the past tweets were dug up by Twitter accounts apparently run by fans of the opposing clubs.
Neither the Braves nor the Nationals immediately mentioned possible punishments for their respective players.