ESPN commentator and world-champion friendmaker Keith Olbermann this week launched a Twitter war with college students who'd raised $13 million to fight pediatric cancer.
The incident left Olbermann with a (paid) suspension through the end of the week, and it left many of us with one simple question: What the hell, man?
Olbermann's more vocal critics are just chalking it up to him being a jerk. But more specifically and perhaps generously, there are three intersecting issues that likely led to his poor decision to lash out at Penn State's entire student body as they celebrated saving children's lives:
1. His seething anger at how the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case was handled by Penn State and coach Joe Paterno was inflamed again recently by the NCAA's decision to reinstate 112 wins that had been stripped from the school's record during the time Sandusky, an assistant coach, had been molesting children.
2. Olbermann loves sparring on Twitter, and Penn State is an easy topic to rile him. Once he was in fight mode, he seemed unwilling or unable to pause for a breather.
3. As with many misunderstandings on the Internet, he probably just didn't click the link to see what the original tweet was about, or else even Olbermann might have decided to pick his battles a bit more carefully.
Speaking of the original tweet, here's how it all began, when a Penn State alumna (who had sparred with Olbermann on Twitter in the past) tweeted at him about the school's success in raising $13 million for children being treated for cancer at the university's Milton S. Hershey Medical Center:
@lisaadeleon ...Pitiful— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) February 23, 2015
So @KeithOlbermann says PSU students raising over $13m for pediatric cancer research is "pitiful." No sir, u r the definition of the word.— Dave Seidel (@dave_seidel) February 23, 2015
As you can see from Olbermann's next reply, he didn't seem to have noticed the fact he had responded to a tweet about students raising money to fight child cancer:
.@dave_seidel her tweet reads "we are..." I finished her sentence "...pitiful." At this rate your diploma won't be recognized, Moron— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) February 23, 2015
.@dave_seidel Again - get your $ back - you didn't learn how to read. PSU students are pitiful because they're PSU students - period.— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) February 23, 2015
On her Facebook page, DeLeon wrote that she was "just following up from a January tweet to him to make sure he was aware of some of the many things Penn State does as part of our proud Legacy."
Olbermann is a surprisingly tireless Twitter pugilist, and even after he realized there was a cancer connection, he continued swinging at just about anyone who would wade into the fray:
.@ColinBenner Good for you. Doesn't change the school's reputation. Check back next century.— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) February 24, 2015
Facing suspension for his tweets, Olbermann posted the obligatory apology:
I apologize for the PSU tweets. I was stupid and childish and way less mature than the students there who did such a great fundraising job.— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) February 24, 2015
ESPN also issued the following statement:
"We are aware of the exchange Keith OIbermann had on Twitter last night regarding Penn State. It was completely inappropriate and does not reflect the views of ESPN. We have discussed it with Keith, who recognizes he was wrong. ESPN and Keith have agreed that he will not host his show for the remainder of this week and will return on Monday. The annual tradition of THON and the efforts of the students of Penn State to fight pediatric cancer should be applauded."
For some, it might help humanize Olbermann a bit to go back and watch his commentary on the reinstatement of Penn State's wins, which he understandably felt washed away much of the historical stain of the Sandusky crimes:
While Olbermann will never apologize for his anger at Penn State over the child abuse cover-up, he almost certainly regrets his decision to pick a fight over a tweet about how the school is helping children recover from cancer. The clearest assessment of this week's incident seems to have come, appropriately, via Twitter, from a Penn Stater: