Keith Olbermann is a troll gasbag. That is his job for which he’s very handsomely paid for by ESPN and something he’s been very good at for decades. But now Olbermann in hot water for sparking a Twitter war with Penn State, a school that the he really, really hates, down to the personal level.
Here’s what happened: When the NCAA announced it was restoring Penn State’s wins after its sanctions out of the Sandusky scandal, Olbermann went in on Penn State and the NCAA in a much-watched video rant. He called Penn State students and alum “the worst people in the world.” Those words are something that the millions of people associated with one of the biggest public research universities in the country didn’t take kindly to. Writing at OnWard State, Kevin Horne’s response, an Open Letter to Olbermann, blew up virally because it so perfectly expressed how silly and immature it is to pass condemnation on people for where they grew up or went to college.
Fast forward to this weekend. Penn State students raised over $13 million for THON, one of the biggest college charity events in the world, all of which goes to research for pediatric cancer (Penn State’s Hershey School of Medicine and Medical Center is one of the best research + care hospitals in the world for this). A Penn State student tweeted the news at Olbermann, provoking this response:
“Pitiful” is probably a pretty poor choice of words by Olbermann to use for a student body that just raised $13 million to fight childhood cancer. This ignited an exchange in which Olbermann doubled down on his hatred for Penn State students:
And then he really went in:
All this blew up in his face today, with ESPN announcing that they’re suspending him for a week. Via:
We are aware of the exchange Keith Olbermann had on Twitter last night regarding Penn State. It was completely inappropriate and does not reflect the views of ESPN. We have discussed it with Keith, who recognizes he was wrong. ESPN and Keith have agreed that he will not host his show for the remainder of this week and will return on Monday. The annual tradition of THON and the efforts of the students of Penn State to fight pediatric cancer should be applauded.
Which led to this pretty insincere, ESPN-mandated apology:
I apologize for the PSU tweets. I was stupid and childish and way less mature than the students there who did such a great fundraising job.
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) February 24, 2015
Olbermann is a jackass for saying these things and failing to acknowledge that Penn Staters do positive things. When he says something like Penn State students and alums “proving his point about the mediocrity of their education and ethics,” he’s prodding a fire that’s personal to a lot of people. In my case, as a third generation Penn State alum, Olbermann is not only slinging cheap insults towards myself, but also everyone important to me: My mom, dad, grandparents, sister, brother, extended family, college friends, casual friends who went to Penn State that I met after college. According to Olbermann, by virtue of where these special people in my life went to college, they’re “all mediocre and have questionable ethics,” despite being otherwise fantastic human beings. Get the fuck out of here with those broad brushstrokes, Keith. And learn some restraint on Twitter.
That said, the woman with ties to Penn State who tweeted the news to Olbermann is just as culpable for being a jackass. Her tweet itself was a move made out of self-righteous indignation for Dear Old State. In her own way, she was trolling Olbermann on Twitter when she could have just let sleeping dogs lie.
It’s a situation where a little humility goes a long way. Bragging about the millions and millions of dollars THON raised just to instigate Twitter war with someone who you know vilifies Penn State just to make a point is FAR from humble. There’s no way she expected Olbermann to see the news, have a sudden change of heart, and be like “Hey, I take back what I said! Penn State is an awesome community that really cares!”
In that regard, she got precisely what she wanted out of him.
This incident has always been one of my biggest grievances with THON for years. Similar bragging happened at Penn State when I was there in the pre-Sandusky Scandal era. Being “FTK!” is a wonderful cause with real-life impact to many kids and families, and it deserves as much money as possible; I emptied out my wallet when I ran into a Penn State group canning in Union Square on a Saturday this fall. It’s something Penn Staters are tremendously proud of and for good reason.
But self-righteously bragging about it in a way that makes Penn State — as a whole — look like some sort of morally superior institutional angel lacks humility and self-awareness. Even worse, it makes those of us associated with Penn State look like douchebags, which (a. doesn’t help the university’s reputation at all and (b. confirms a lot of people’s general vibe about the school and the student body. It makes a great charity event look like it is about Penn State having a do-good public image, not the actual cause itself. And we are… better than that.
Don’t be dicks, Penn State students. Learn when to shut up. Learn how to be above it.
And never, ever feed the trolls.