By Jon Frandsen
When ex-athletes hop on social media and venture away from the games they played to tackle other issues the results are often a dismaying display of ignorance.
So it was troubling but not terribly surprising when one-time pitching ace and current ESPN baseball analyst Curt Schilling started attacking the theory of evolution on Twitter. It also was aggravating, but still not surprising that when he got called out by those armed with actual scientific facts, Schilling resorted to the last refuge of ninnies: mixing name-calling with self-assured but frighteningly wrong-headed arguments. “Hey clown, why don’t apes still evolve into humans if that was the path?” was one of his more jaw-dropping retorts to a critic.
One of those critics was fellow ESPN baseball analyst Keith Law, who clearly was dismayed by Schilling’s promulgation of such patent nonsense. And he said so, without the name-calling.
And here is what is deeply troubling and makes a Twitter fight noteworthy: ESPN decided to step into the dispute — and punished Law by barring him from using Twitter for a few days.
ESPN told Deadspin that the Twitter timeout “had absolutely nothing to do with” Law’s views. And Sports Illustrated (in the third item of this column) speculated that ESPN, which has an unfortunate record of ignoring some truly offensive Twitter comments by high-profile ex-athletes on it its payroll, didn’t like Law criticizing one of its marquee names in public.
That may all be true. But the unfortunate appearance is that of a hugely influential media power taking sides — the wrong side — in a religion vs. science dispute that is not a real dispute at all. The science was settled long, long before Schilling ever set foot on the mound or used his lovely, evolved thumbs to embarrass himself on Twitter.
So we celebrate and applaud Keith Law for sticking his neck out when a colleague started publicly spouting nonsense. “There are hundreds of transitional fossils on record, Curt,” Law wrote in one exchange. When a critic suggested that Law (but not Schilling, mind you) stick to baseball, Law was blunt: “No, I won’t. Science is infinitely more important.”
And when someone implied Law was attacking Schilling’s beliefs, he chafed. “I haven’t criticized or questioned anyone’s faith. I oppose anti-science, that’s all.”
But our favorite tweet of Law’s was the first thing he wrote when his banishment ended: “Eppur si muove.” Legend has it that that Italian phrase — “Yet it moves” in english — is what Galileo muttered after being forced to recant his scientific observation that the Earth moved around the Sun.
It still moves. And organisms still evolve, even if Mr. Schilling’s thoughts do not.