Chris Jones didn’t expect to cause a firestorm when he wrote a column for ESPN The Magazine that compared the Montreal Expos to the Florida Marlins.
But one line in particular caught the attention of some of the magazine’s Twitter followers and sparked an instant controversy: “You’re about to witness the Montreal Massacre, Part II, only on a far grander, even more heartbreaking scale.”
Mr. Jones swears he didn’t mean to link the Ecole Polytechnique shootings – where Marc Lepine killed 14 female students in 1989 – to the troubles facing a baseball team. Within a few hours of online publication, the magazine tacked an apology to the bottom of the column.
Here’s how it all came together.
So how did this actually happen?
I’m the back page columnist at the magazine. I probably wrote this column about two weeks ago, and it’s my fourth column. I started relatively recently and was pretty excited because this was the first time I took a stand on something. The first three were more feature-ish. So we posted the column this morning, and I made a joke about how it was the first time lawyers had to vet something I had written. I got some nice tweets about it.
When did you get the sense something bad was happening?
My wife had just taken the kids out and I was working on a feature for Esquire, and I was expecting angry responses from Miami fans saying “how dare you suggest this will happen to our team.” And the first message said something about “bullshit,” and I didn’t clue in. I thought it was just about comparing the two cities. But then someone else retweeted it and said “Holy f**k,” and that’s when a cold sweat covered my body. I actually started shaking.
You were quick to apologize via Twitter.
It’s one of those things – I get a poor reception on Twitter sometimes because I fight back when I think people are being unfair. But this was a full on mistake. In a situation like that, I can just hope people believe me when I say I never in a million years would I compare a murder to losing a baseball team.
Aren’t you Canadian?
I’m Canadian, but when it happened my family lived in Australia. It’s all on me, but I was 15 and on the other side of the world. There was no Internet. Obviously I know what it is. If you say Columbine, I’m right there. But if you say Montreal, I think of a million other things first. I thought about it all day – how I didn’t see it. But I just didn’t – and I read that line 100 times. My whole point was that the owner murdered the Expos – it wasn’t an accidental situation. It was the purposeful killing of a team – in my head, I just went to massacre.
What do you say to people who think you knew what you were doing?
As if I would ever do that. If I had even one millisecond where I said “Oh, there’s this reference” I would change it. It would be such an easy change – I was just trying to compare the Expos to the Marlins. I didn’t have to say massacre – the piece didn’t depend on that. I know there are people who don’t believe me. But if they could have seen me and felt the hot flush they would know how badly I felt.