Trea Turner had tears in his eyes when he sat down in front of reporters Tuesday afternoon. He took a deep breath before he spoke, visibly shaken, as if a great weight had settled onto his shoulders in the day since racially insensitive and homophobic tweets from his college years resurfaced Sunday. No standard unit exists for measuring sincerity, but Turner, who has never been one to show emotion, looked every bit like a man experiencing the reality of his guilt, not searching for a way to explain it away.
“For starters, I want to apologize everybody that was affected by things that I said: LBGT community, African American community, special needs community,” Turner said, speaking without notes or a prepared speech in front of him, eyes welled.
“I’m truly sorry for what I said and I want to take full responsibility for that. I want to apologize to my teammates, I just talked to them, make sure that they know my thoughts and where I’m at. I want to apologize to Mike Rizzo and the Nationals for bringing this distraction to their team, their organization, sorry for that as well. Most importantly, apologize to the fans. A lot of fans had been sharing their thoughts in the last few days and I’ve had a chance to read a few of them. I think that’s where it is most affected by what I said and I want to apologize to those people.”
Turner did not make excuses for the comments. He pointed out that being a teenager does not remove responsibility, that no matter how old he was, he should have known better than to use homophobic slurs or derogatory terms for members of the special needs community .
“It’s not when I said the things I said,” Turner said. “It’s that I said them at all.”
Nationals management and players did not give excuses for Turner, either. All vouched for the man they see every day.
“It can’t be glossed over,” Rizzo said. “Those things are very, very serious,” Rizzo said. “… The Trea Turner I know since we brought him into the organization is a fine human being. He’s a fine person and a guy who conducts himself in a very dignified, classy manner.”
“There’s really no room for that kind of talk or language in the game of baseball, or really America and in the world,” Adam Eaton said. “… That being said, the year and a half I’ve known Trea, he’s been an outstanding person in all walks of life — doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, black, purple, orange. He’s been an outstanding person to all of us.”
Dave Martinez choked up when asked about his shortstop, who has stopped by to check on the rookie manager at tough points in the season and has emerged as a respected presence in the clubhouse during his short career. Martinez condemned the tweets, said the organization doesn’t condone those things. Then, when asked how he knew Turner was sincere in his apologies, Martinez teared up and pushed through a few cracks of his normally steady voice.
“[Trea] started crying,” Martinez said. “That tells me he’s sincere.”
Turner’s demeanor suggested sincerity, whatever such cues are worth in situations like these. He did not try to dodge responsibility. He acknowledged how moved he was by fan stories. As for whether his views have changed?
“I don’t think that I’ve ever had those views that people are saying about me,” Turner said. “[But it’s] fair. I think you can definitely accuse me of that.”
Sean Doolittle, who posted a lengthy Twitter thread about the need for players to be more careful about what they post on social media and what happens when they do not, said he does not think Turner’s tweets “reflect who he is now.” Doolittle has been an outspoken advocate for the LGBT community, as well as the need for acceptance more broadly.
“I think sometimes when you’re that age, you might know those things are wrong to say but maybe you don’t know anybody that’s been personally affected by them. It’s tough for you to really understand the damage, the real damage that they can and do cause,” Doolittle said. “… He has the opportunity to demonstrate that growth and we have to give that space for him to be able to demonstrate that he’s grown and he’s changed since then.”
Turner said he is trying to determine the best way to demonstrate that growth, to use his platform for good instead of the hurt he caused with those tweets.
“I think going forward I can do a lot more things, I just need to assess what’s important to me, what can make the biggest difference,” Turner said. “From reading the last few days, being a kid and things kids go through is kind of overlooked. That’s something I would like to take part in. I have in the past couple years done quite a bit through the team, but doing more and more is better.”
Turner already participates in MLB’s Shred Hate initiative, an anti-bullying program for which he has spoken to children and filmed public service ads. He said he does not feel that is enough, nor did he point to that as a way to get himself off the hook. He did not point to anything like that, nor hunt for a way out of what happened. Even after his news conference, Turner sat quietly at his locker, where anyone who wanted to could press him further. As he headed out for batting practice, he passed a young Nationals fan with a sign that read “Go Trea Turner.” He knows not everyone shares the notion now.
“A lot of times people says kids, kids, kids. Kids look up to you the most,” Turner said. “But there’s plenty of adults that have reached out to me that gave their side of the story. It’s not just one person, one community, it’s a lot of people in a lot different places doing a lot of different things. I think that’s something that athletes have to keep in mind. It’s not a niche, or a small community, or one person, it’s much larger.”
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