Curt Schilling and the long-standing consequences of trolling at work

It's one thing to misbehave on the Internet. Doing it through your workplace is inexcusable.

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Credit: REUTERS/David McNew

If you have not heard the latest controversy regarding online behavior, you should take considerable notice. It's something every person who manages a group of people needs to know about because it's an issue of what they are doing at their desks.

I run hot and cold about retired baseball pitcher Curt Schilling. On the one hand, there was his World Series heroics with the Boston Red Sox in 2004 that broke the Curse of the Bambino. Plus, he was an enthusiastic gamer who loved EverQuest, as I do for some reason (the new management is even more incompetent than the old). On the flip side, he also made an awful mess with his game studio 38 Studios and cost my home state of Rhode Island a fortune.

But what Schilling did recently was admirable, along with being a good dad. It started when he sent out a simple tweet sent out this past Sunday: "Congrats to Gabby Schilling who will pitch for the Salve Regina Seahawks next year!!"

(More synchronicity: My younger sister went to that same school.)

The response was nothing but disgusting, with comments including threats of rape. Schilling took screen shots and saved them to his blog (warning: lots of NSFW content).

"Now let me emphasize again. I was a jock my whole life. I played sports my whole life. Baseball since I was 5 until I retired at 41. I know clubhouses. I lived in a dorm. I get it. Guys will be guys. Guys will say dumb crap, often. But I can’t ever remember, drunk, in a clubhouse, with best friends, with anyone, ever speaking like this to someone…" he wrote.

He also tracked down a few of the people who made the comments, since they were using screen names instead of real names. As a result, one of them – a part-time ticket seller for the New York Yankees – was fired, while another, a student at Brookdale Community College, has been suspended and is awaiting disciplinary hearing.

Schilling's move has overwhelming support, but there has been some criticism as well. His answer to those who suggested he ignore it was "hell no." And it should not be tolerated.

More than 30 years ago, I discovered the world of BBSes. For you young 'uns, that was where someone would dedicate a PC to running bulletin board software and a dedicated phone line so people with modems could call in and chat on message boards. You people bellyaching about Comcast speeds have no idea what life at 300 baud was like.

Almost immediately it dawned on me that online behavior was often atrocious. While I used my own name, people hid behind screen names and their behavior was often very brazen. At the same time, we would have in-person BBS parties, picnics usually, where we would all gather and meet people in person. Many trolls either never showed, and those who did were very subdued.

So it dawned on me even as a teenager how obnoxious people would be behind the keyboard. That distance, the lack of being face to face, made people behave in a way they never would offline.

Fast forward about 10 years. I've discovered the Internet while in college and after graduating, found one of the first ISPs, Boston's Software Tool and Die. The Net back then was a really different place. I was dropped into a Unix shell and was on my own. The web was in its infancy and all the action was on Usenet, a BBS-like service.

At the time, I was a big fan of pro wrestling, and was one of my online hangouts. Out of nowhere a guy named Phil, whose last name I won't provide, appeared in the service and just started insulting the daylights out of us, making some really disgusting homophobic comments about us for being pro wrestling fans.

You couldn't ban people from Usenet, and after he ignored our repeated demands that he leave, some of the people on the board began forwarding his posts to his employer, which happened to be Sun Microsystems. I remember people saying they were sending his posts to and Within days, we learned from someone at Sun he'd been fired for these comments.

This caused some pause. While a few people said "Good," others were bothered. They didn't want Phil fired, they just wanted him to leave RSPW and leave us alone. But like the two people facing the music for their vile comments about Gabby Schilling, Phil did it through work, and those who employed him decided that it was not going to be tolerated.

I learned very early on that workplaces monitor employee activity, and so I curtailed my use at work. The last thing I would want is an employer seeing all the places I visit on the internet. But some people just have no sense. It's one thing to hang out on 4Chan when you are at home, since you're anonymous anyway. But to engage in the behavior I described above while at work is inexcusable, and I don't feel bad for anyone who lost their jobs. Checking Facebook once or twice a day is one thing. Threatening to rape a teenager is another.

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