If there were a tone-deaf Hall of Fame, Milwaukee Brewers fans would be in on the first ballot.

The moment happened Saturday, when pitcher Josh Hader made his second-half debut in a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was his first appearance since hideous tweets from his past emerged during the All-Star Game, transforming him within minutes from a dominant left-handed reliever into a racist, misogynist homophobe.

How did that go over in Milwaukee? Pretty well, apparently. Brewers fans applauded. They cheered. They gave Hader a standing ovation. And they sent the wrong message.

Intending to support their pitcher, they instead came off as supporting what he said.

There’s no defending the tweets, which were all posted between 2011 and 2012. There were many of them. There were demeaning comments about sexual relations with women, references to the Ku Klux Klan, one even outright saying “I hate gay people.”

The player who tweeted all of that got a standing ovation Saturday night.

The opposite, however, would have also been inappropriate. Had Hader jogged onto the field and been booed mercilessly and showered with jeers and taunts, it would have been too harsh. He deserves to be understood, and he deserves to be forgiven.

He was 17 when he tweeted the comments that at 24 have poisoned his name. Had they been posted this year, there would be no excuse for Hader, as electrifying as he’s been with 94 strikeouts in 50.3 innings, to still be on a roster. The Brewers would have faced overwhelming pressure to cut bait, and for good reason.

But they were posted seven years ago. Hader was a kid. And kids do stupid things. They try to make a splash and generate buzz. They try to get likes on Twitter from their friends and peers. They post shocking things, unaware of the possibility — or perhaps probability — that they’ll resurface at the worst possible time.

And Hader has done his part and appeared honest while trying to make his point that these are stupid things he said, and not stupid things he feels. He apologized after the All-Star Game. He apologized to teammates, according to the Los Angeles Times, and even started crying as he did so. He’s agreed to undergo sensitivity training through Major League Baseball.

And, in perhaps the most authentic sign that Hader is not the person from those tweets, his teammates have backed him publicly. If Hader had shown that nasty side before, comments would be filtering out regarding his true nature. So far, however, it’s been the opposite.

“The guy I know, he’s a great guy,” Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich said, according to WISN. “Really kind heart.”

No one trying to do the right thing should be branded. Hader deserves to be forgiven, and according to some of those close to him, he’s on his way.

But a standing ovation isn’t forgiveness. A standing ovation is approval. It’s the ultimate sign of honor and respect, and a player with tweets about white supremacy on his record doesn’t deserve it. He deserves to be kept at arm’s length, given room and time to prove his contrition while still being reminded of his need to do so.

Milwaukee, however, gave the impression it doesn’t care. It doesn’t care that those tweets were about white power and homophobia. It doesn’t care that large groups of people could have been offended and hurt by what he posted. All that matters is that he wears a Brewers jersey and strikes a lot of people out.

Perhaps this was Milwaukee’s way of saying that it knows what the rest of the country is waiting to find out. That Hader is a good person, that he’ll prove it going forward, and that the community has moved on.

It doesn’t seem that way, though. A mixed reaction, with a smattering of applause and boos, would have been the ideal response. The message would have come through: You messed up, and big. But you deserve another chance.

The standing ovation, however, is a total embrace. A different message comes through: We love you, both who you are and who you were.

Or, even worse: Thanks for saying what we felt.

Maybe that’s a reach. But with an ovation like that, those are the impressions that get invited.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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