I've been fascinated by the developing story of a Cubs fan who was caught on camera appearing to "steal" a ball from a kid in the stands. You can view the original video here.
When I first watched the video, I thought to myself "what a jerk!". Thousands of others, mostly on Twitter, piled on as well. On its face, it looks pretty bad: like the man in the 2nd row is gloating after snagging a dropped ball from the kid in front of him.
If you're a baseball fan, you might be aware of the unwritten rule about this: you're supposed to give any baseball you catch in the stands to any kid seated in your immediate vicinity, and you never ever snatch away a baseball destined for a kid's outstretched hands. If you don't immediately give it back to the kid, and are caught on camera in this despicable act, you're destined to be publicly skewered on Twitter and on Sportscenter. Usually, it's deserved.
However, as Deadspin points out in this article, it appears the Cubs fan in question isn't quite the villain he was initially made out to be (referring to a post-game photo of the kid with two baseballs):
So, in case you were wondering where the kid got two balls in the photos the Cubs sent out—the non-signed ball appears to be one the man grabbed and gave to the kid earlier. The story’s very different, now.
Another fan sitting nearby also points out (via Twitter) that after the incident, the man gave the ball to a different kid sitting nearby:
I was sitting next to this guy. That ball was between my feet. The kid already had a ball the same guy helped him get. He handed it to his wife. She took a picture of it and they gave it to the kid next to them. This guy was great. This story is BAD.
Now I feel bad for thinking this guy was a jerk!
It appears official Twitter accounts from Sports Illustrated and Cut4 initially tweeted out the video with comments like "Don't be this guy," which probably galvanized the perception of him as a ballpark villain. This was surely an attempt to be funny, get retweets and likes, but in hindsight, perhaps seems maybe a tad irresponsible. It clearly put this guy in the crosshairs of public scorn we now know he may not have wholly deserved.
Granted, the stakes here weren't very high. It's a baseball game, after all. But what if they were? It begs some more serious questions that might be relevant in more serious circumstances. What responsibility do media outlets have to the subjects of these kinds of incidents? What role do we, the average media consumers, play in this?
The only thing I know for sure is that I will always immediately give the ball to a kid nearby, so as to avoid any ambiguity!
(The Cubs, to their credit, ended up giving the kid a baseball singed by Javier Báez after the game.)