Donte DiVincenzo exploded in the national title game and had one of the best Finals performances in the last 40 years, scoring 31 points. Because it happened in the biggest game, and one that is going to draw 10 times the attention of the regular season, that made him an instant star. Thus, you get headlines like this from Yahoo: “Donte DiVincenzo’s NCAA MOP performance shines light on unfortunate Twitter history”
But did his performance shine a light? Or did people choose to do that, and then media companies choose that it was newsworthy enough to broadcast out to the masses?
DiVincenzo posted some tweets back in 2011, 2012 and 2013 that some have labeled troubling. One of them includes the lyrics of a Meek Mill song about Derrick Rose, using the n-word. This would have been when he was just another middle schooler and early high schooler growing up at ages 14, 15, and 16. We need to have nuance and context in all these discussions. This isn’t even DiVincenzo using song lyrics now. It’s a 14-year-old in anonymity doing it, and it coming out now.
What are we doing?
There’s no doubt now that DiVincenzo is a public figure. But where is the line on what is relevant and what our reaction should be? He was most definitely not a public figure in 2011. He was a young kid.
I can tell you that as a parent, handling and navigating a 14-year-old has been one of the most challenging years when it comes to kids. (Between 9 and 11 is pretty much the sweet spot where they can do things for themselves but are still kids). Middle school is this giant petri dish of drama, puberty, and figuring out boundaries and how to act. I’ve had to have plenty of discussions with my son about what you put out there on social media, in texts, and how you interact with others. But who amongst us would want people going back and unearthing something we said or did as an 8th grader? I am not the same person I was then, at all.
Some of the tweets (just knowing how boys are at that age) were also probably written by friends who took the phone to post things and mess around with their friend. But regardless of who wrote them, these are not the same as him writing them now. There’s a reason why this latest generation, one that has followed DiVincenzo, takes to Snapchat and avoids Twitter and Facebook. Things go away, just like the things we said in the middle school hallways 30 years ago are lost to history an our parents never knew. They do so to keep the adults out of their business.
And the adults making the calls that these are newsworthy now are the ones who need to do some more digging. I think there is a legitimate and ongoing discussion we need to have about the confluence of social media, and past history and relevance of prior actions. We wrote last year how stories about LaMelo Ball playing basketball are newsworthy because LaVar Ball and the Ball Family are putting themselves out as public figures. We’ve seen very talented young musical artists and actors in the public sphere, and I think that those cases are different. But they are still limited and different from what constitutes newsworthiness for adults, and the stories should be related to the reason they are public figures.
There are also plenty of cases of digging into someone’s past, and we can debate whether it is relevant. When a politician is speaking on a topic or issue, past comments may be relevant to revealing true beliefs. But I’m also more likely to put more weight if those comments came at 24 instead of 14. When it comes to minors and social media use, the issue causing notoriety or fame should be related to the use (such as a school violence incidence and looking proximally into attitudes shared on social media).
But here, DiVincenzo was just making basketball shots, not pontificating on something. He wasn’t raising something that made this relevant. That 14-year-old was not a public figure, and like a lot of 14-year-olds did some things that we wouldn’t be proud of. And he also doesn’t even exist anymore.