We all did stupid stuff when we were in high school. We said things that we meant as a joke or didn’t mean maliciously, we pulled stupid pranks against each other and the list goes on. Obviously, we wouldn’t want any of these things to be online making it forever permanent via screenshots and retweets.
Unfortunately for today’s younger generation, they don’t have that privilege of letting stupid mistakes of their past die with the passing of time. Especially after Villanova’s blowout win in the NCAA basketball national championship game last week. The Wildcats won every game of the tournament by double-digits and capped it off with a 79-62 win over Michigan for the title.
A large part of that championship performance came from sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo who came off the bench to score 31 points, leading the team in that category. DiVincenzo literally became an overnight star with everyone Googling him and NBA interest seemingly growing as well.
Unfortunately for him, this sudden popularity caused many to find a Twitter account he owned during his time at high school but hasn’t used since June 2016. Some of his tweets from 2012 and 2011, when he was 14 and 15 years old, included racist terms while quoting rap lyrics, some homosexual slurs and other things that frankly just shouldn’t be said. Villanova didn’t help the situation by claiming the account was hacked, the go-to excuse for these types of controversies, and eventually, the account was deleted.
Since then, DiVincenzo has been talked about across all mediums of sports coverage and put under the microscope in an ironically negative way because of the game his great performance brought him. People online have grabbed their torches and pitchforks with some even calling the 21-year-old a closeted neo-Nazi.
This is where an important distinction has to be made, especially with college players. DiVincenzo wrote out some words that shouldn’t be used and while many would want me to stop the sentence there and not contextualize it, the motives behind it are what determines how harshly we really should be punishing him.
He didn’t use any of the terms in an attacking manner, none of the tweets signaled DiVincenzo wasn’t OK with people being gay or another race, he was just making some really dumb jokes. I am in no way saying that is okay either. But if calling him a racist, homophobe Nazi because he was a kid that didn’t understand the publicity of social media is too far.
Not only was he just a dumb kid who made an inappropriate joke, as many of us have also done, but many forget that just because you saw him on national television, he is still just a kid. At 21, I could barely handle my schoolwork let alone an entire nation’s attention focused on me.
College athletes grow through learning experiences like we all do. The difference is they have to do it in the public eye. So the least we can do is have a little bit of empathy when it comes to them making mistakes. They’re young; mess-ups will happen. As tempting as it is to rise up and call them out for dumb mistakes, it is part of growing up to learn from their mistakes but to do that, they have to be able to recover and move on from them.
I’m in no way excusing DiVincenzo’s tweets either. They were dumb and even at that age, I understood that my future employers can see everything I do on social media one way or the other. I understand that many teens don’t think that carefully but this is a good wakeup call for them. Be smarter. Before you hit send, think twice.
DiVincenzo said some really offensive things in jest and has properly been put on blast for it but let’s leave him with the slap on the wrist. He meant no hate to a particular group of people and was simply going for the laugh. It was dumb and he should be punished for it but that punishment shouldn’t be a life sentence of humiliation.
It’s easy to blame someone for doing something wrong, especially when they did, in fact, do something wrong. The important thing is to realize two things: first, he was a kid when he made those mistakes and he’s still a kid now. Second, he didn’t say those things out of hate or spite, he was just going for funny and failed miserably.
So DiVincenzo, by all accounts, isn’t a bad person but just someone who made very public mistakes as a kid. Slapping him on the wrist is fine but to demonize him for the rest of his life for juvenile actions made as a literal juvenile is wrong. Sometimes it’s best to put down the pitchfork and make the villain realize what they did wrong rather than casting them off.
Tad Desai covers sports and education for The Sealy News. He can be reached at 979-885-3562 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.