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The media’s response to Dwayne Haskins’ death opens the door for discussion about the dehumanization of athletes

As is the case whenever an athlete passes away, the entirety of the sports world seems to take a moment to collectively mourn the loss, regardless of team affiliation. Most times, the stories shared on social media are about the life of the player, or in remembrance of an iconic play from the career of the now-departed. However, the recent death of 24-year-old Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Dwayne Haskins in South Florida this past week wasn’t met with the same reverence that other players have received. 

After Haskins’s sudden death, Adam Schefter, one of the most renowned sportswriters in the country, failed to offer proper condolences. Schefter released his controversial tweet the morning after Haskins’ death was announced.

“Dwayne Haskins, a standout at Ohio State before struggling to catch on with Washington and Pittsburgh in the NFL, died this morning when he got hit by a car in South Florida, per his agent Cedric Saunders. Haskins would have turned 25 years old on May 3,” Schefter tweeted.

As poorly-worded and callous as it is, Schefter left the tweet up for nearly half an hour before he deleted it, and re-released a statement with the comments on Haskins’ football career omitted. The ESPN-contracted reporter received immediate flak from both fans and NFL players alike. 

Fans were quick to point out that Schefter tweeted out a different statement when Colt Brennan, a white former NFL quarterback, passed away last year. The statement didn’t mention Brennan’s NFL struggles, which were well-documented, but rather pointed to his success at Hawaii where he played college football before anything else. So, what’s the difference between Brennan and Haskins that called for the difference in tweets?

On NFL radio the morning of the tragedy, Cowboys legend Gil Brandt tore Haskins to shreds, claiming that his decision to leave Ohio State early and declare for the NFL draft after a historic 2018 NCAA season was one of the major reasons for the quarterback’s passing, citing a lack of maturity and experience. 

“He was a guy that was livin’ to be dead,” Brandt said.

He continued to talk about Haskins in the early portion of the episode, before going on to complain about Haskins and his family hosting a draft party separate from the league’s at a bowling alley. 

Brandt released a statement on Twitter later in the day apologizing for his statements, while Twitter subsequently tore him apart.

The history of dehumanizing athletes in sports is long, but only recently have players had the support needed to speak out against their perpetrators. For example, look at the media coverage from 15 years ago when Sean Taylor was shot while defending his family from a home invasion. 

“I know how I feel about Taylor, and this latest news isn’t surprising in the least, not to me,” Michael Wilbon, an ESPN commentator said. “Whether this incident is or isn’t random, Taylor grew up in a violent world, embraced it, claimed it, loved to run in it and refused to divorce himself from it.” 

“[Taylor], great player, has a history of really really bad judgment,” Colin Cowherd, a Fox Sports personality said. “Cops, assault, spitting, DUI. I’m supposed to believe his judgment got significantly better in two years, from horrible to fantastic?” 

These shocking quotes show just how much our society has progressed in recent years. However, there’s still a lot of work to be done to continue addressing the racism and dehumanization of athletes, in particular those who have passed, and the buck doesn’t stop with Schefter and Brandt. The treatment of professional athletes is something that needs to change both for their own safety, and their sanity in the modern age. 


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