Adrian Wojnarowski - formerly the most credible voice in NBA media - pretended to sacrifice himself for the greater good on Friday, responding to U.S. Senator Josh Hawley’s open letter to the NBA with the words, “Fuck you.” Anybody who’s paid attention for the past half-decade knows that Woj sacrificed nothing. What ESPN is publicly calling a suspension for Woj will be parlayed into a private victory lap, and a hashtag martyrdom which has become a central tenet to the new religion practiced by today’s Twitter mob.
Hawley expressed concern that NBA players will not be allowed to support victims of the Chinese Communist Party as a part of the social and political messages shared on their jerseys when the NBA season resumes in the Orlando bubble.
Woj responded the way Twitter has trained its users to: with a quick, dehumanizing jab that would probably never be uttered in real life. That makes sense, because the media is disproportionately hooked on Twitter. It is where they break and read news, and it is where their journalist buddies hang out. But, all that time spent on Twitter is causing media members to have a distorted view of the world.
10% of Twitter users create 80% of the Tweets. Twitter’s demographic is mostly 20-30-year-old baristas living on their parent’s dime in New York or LA. Extreme viewpoints dominate, because that’s what the algorithm rewards.
Woj was not just empowered by these extremists in the hours after his response went public, he was influenced by them to respond that way in the first place. In what world is it appropriate for ESPN’s top NBA reporter to respond to a U.S. Senator’s not-that-controversial letter with the words “fuck you?” In the Twitter world, of course, where it is not just appropriate, it is Woj’s moral obligation.
Woj is not some bleeding-heart snowflake who floated into the world of journalism through daddy’s connections. He didn’t attend Syracuse or ASU - America’s broadcasting factory farms - like most of his ESPN colleagues. He attended St. Bonaventure University in Western New York - the same school my father went to - and worked tirelessly to build connections with no-name assistant coaches who would go on to be NBA head coaches and general managers. Why would he throw away his hard earned, real-world credibility for a pat on the back from Silicon Valley’s drones? Dopamine is a hell of a drug.
What’s happening on social media, Twitter especially, is a more legitimate and fruitful version of what happened with the computer game, “World of Warcraft” in the early 2000’s. As Steve Bannon pointed out in his 2018 sit-down with Errol Morris, World of Warcraft gave low-rung Americans a world in which they could be heroes, build a community and develop relationships far more rewarding than anything the analog world provided for them.
The same has happened on Twitter - and don’t be mistaken - it is a game just the same.
How do you play? Simple. Step one is to build your character. Equip yourself with the most progressive viewpoints, the snarkiest insults, and most relatable retweets – something about how hard “adulting” is. Step two is to point out the flaws in something other than yourself, while highlighting the morally heightened image of yourself you created in step one. Step three is to pile on anyone who dares to step outside the approved Twitter orthodoxy. Do not engage, only disavow.
The reward for playing Twitter well is too great for those garnering little from the analog world to pass up. Affirmation they aren’t getting at home, a community that modern American narcissism hardly offers, and a purpose that post-god Americans in a post-industrial economy long for.
A reward so strong that even Woj, the most successful reporter in NBA history, needed to cash in on.
The NBA has invested more in Twitter than any major American sports league. Access to the NBA’s 10 most important stars - many of whom have developed fiefdoms in Twitter’s hyper polarized world - uniquely determines the careers of NBA reporters. Adam Silver - Twitter’s favorite commissioner - has nestled so closely with NBA media that any attack on his performance is an attack on one of their own. The NBA, even before Orlando, effectively sealed itself inside of its own thought bubble.
You can imagine, then, how it must feel when a sitting U.S. Senator shares an open letter expressing views so heterodox to the ones agreed upon by NBA Twitter’s thought cartel. Unsettling, malicious, heretical. How can we blame Woj? His response was perfectly rational considering the world he now lives in.
Of course, anybody with even a surface-level understanding of the Chinese Communist Party agrees with Senator Hawley - that the NBA’s cuddly relationship with the CCP is offensive, especially considering the league’s professed commitment to social justice causes. The CCP forcefully harvests organs from political prisoners, throws its Muslim population into “reeducation camps” and holds authoritarian and repressive views antithetical to the values we hold dear in America. Now, the CCP is exporting those views onto Americans through economic and political coercion, and it’s got everything to do with the NBA. That’s why Daryl Morey has been forced to shut up and manage after supporting Hong Kong’s (now crushed) liberal democracy, that’s why the NBA appeased China in May by switching its ball from American-owned Spalding to Chinese-owned Wilson,and that’s why players can’t mention the CCP in their jersey messages.
In a rational world, Woj would worry about the NBA’s relationship with China the same way most in NFL media have worried about concussions for the past decade. ESPN’s been in hot water with the NFL - and received poor Monday Night Football schedules as a result - for extensively reporting on CTE, Ray Rice, etc., but has maintained journalistic integrity along the way.
Woj, though, doesn’t live in a rational world. The Twitter world rejects rationality, debate and self-reflection as tools of oppression. Dissent is treated as blasphemy, because it is not about getting it right, it is about winning.
Woj did nothing brave. He kowtowed to the Twitter mob the same way the NBA kowtows to China. He resorted to a lazy, dehumanizing jab in response to a legitimate concern. He continued his journey out of the real world, into Twitter’s alternate universe.