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Hok Talk: Screwing up sucks

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Having an audience sucks worse.

Wild Card Round - Milwaukee Brewers v Washington Nationals
Trent Grisham had a bad day at work in front of the entire country, October 1, 2019.
Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

When I was still relatively new to my day job as a computer programmer I was assigned a task by my boss. That wasn’t anything particularly out of the ordinary. I’ve been assigned many tasks by my boss both before that day and since. But this particular task stands out in my memory. I was supposed to go into the production database - a.k.a. the place that stored all of the data that our clients were actively using - and make a change to a certain subset of the users. Knowing that I was working with THE REAL DATA I carefully crafted my query, checked it over a second time, and then ran it.

And then I realized I’d done so without implementing a WHERE clause.

Just in case you’re not familiar with what that means; I forgot to tell the computer to restrict itself to that specific subset I mentioned earlier. My change went out on all of the users in our database. It broke 95% of them. No one could log in, which meant no one could use the software, which meant I’d just royally screwed up.

I went to my boss, figurative hat in hand. I expected to get reamed out. I was prepared to stay for hours to repair the problem if he’d just tell me how, because I didn’t have a clue. My boss at that time was not known to have particularly stable moods, but after I told him what I’d done he just calmly said, “Let’s go talk to [the database administrator].” We did and it turns out she had a relatively recent backup, and because there were relatively few changes in the area of the database I’d screwed up it was an easy fix that likely didn’t even cause any lost data at all. I learned my lesson, of course. I now triple- and quadruple-check my queries before I run them, even on my development database (it has imaginary data in it that I can play with and screw up and nobody gets hurt).

Even so, that was a bad day at work. I screwed up badly and it could have cost me a lot. Screwing up is never fun but screwing up at work is worse than other kinds. If I go to the grocery store and forget my favorite flavor of Pop-Tarts the only person I’ve hurt is me, and I know I can go back to the store and get them if I want to. When you screw up at work you’ve let other people down. But not only that, screwing up at work potentially damages your ability to make a living. To keep a roof over your head and to have the money to buy those Pop-Tarts. But that’s just at a regular day job. Screwing up as a professional athlete is exponentially worse. Everything I’ve already covered remains true but gets magnified. There are possibly hundreds of thousands of witnesses to your failure; a significant chunk of them, a much larger number than most of us would expect to hurt with a work screw-up, feel hurt while the remainder cheerfully celebrates your failure. Most of us probably don’t have to deal with recordings of our screw-ups being plastered over television and the internet to be played over and over again, either.

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Trent Grisham had a bad day at work on Monday night. Just like any of us, he went to do something he knew how to do, had done a million times before, and just screwed up. It sucks, but it happens. He obviously felt terrible just like all of us have felt terrible when we screwed up at work. But here’s the thing that strikes me. I don’t know if Grisham’s boss yelled at him. But I do know he got something else most of us wouldn’t receive when we screwed up at our jobs: a bunch of hateful tweets and death threats.

To be fair, there are a lot of tweets out there that represent strong support for the rookie. But imagine you had whatever bad day you had at work, you went home after facing your boss and coworkers - and inexplicably the media outside your office, and sat down at your computer to find a bunch of tweets from people who wished you were dead or who suggested you should harm yourself or avoid going home. Even if there were some supportive comments, even if the supportive comments outnumbered the hateful comments by a significant amount, it would be pretty demoralizing on top of an already demoralizing day, wouldn’t it?

This, of course, is not the first time a player has received death threats for his contributions on the field. In 2013 football running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ray Rice famously received death threats on twitter over fantasy football stats. But it really should be the last time. Even if you’ve loved your team for 60 years or if you bet a lot of money that they would win, nothing justifies attacking athletes - or anyone - simply because they had a bad day at work. If you’re ever considering it, remember a time when you screwed up at work and how other people had grace and patience with you. Or how you wish they would have if they didn’t. And then try to cut them some slack, instead.