Outrage over Donte DiVincenzo’s old tweets are a sad sign of the times

It all happened in a two-hour span that will seem like a blur, from the ball going up for the opening tip, to the colorful confetti falling down at the final whistle. Big East fans had known about Villanova sixth-man extraordinaire Donte DiVincenzo for at least a season, but the overwhelming majority of the American public did not.

People who were just tuning into Villanova, after a season of largely ignoring the top team in the country, knew of players like eventual Wooden Player of the Year winner Jalen Brunson and future NBA Lottery pick candidate Mikal Bridges. However, when it came to the Wildcats’ leading scorer off the bench, fans had to discover him with every coldblooded three and jaw-dropping rejection.

By games end, Villanova were national champions, and DiVincenzo, who averaged just a tick over 13 points per game, had a game-high 31 points. Suddenly, the man known jokingly as “The Big Ragu,” for his Italian name and red hair, had lit up internet feeds just like he had lit up the scoreboard on the biggest stage of college basketball.

However, it is never enough to simply enjoy a moment. It was not enough, for some people, to simply revel in the fact that a 21-year-old, who had accepted a smaller role and less recognition, was given payback in the form of an unforgettable display. Instead, for those despicably bent on pushing the envelope, controversial online tweets from a 14 and 15-year-old DiVincenzo were exposed.

The comment that particularly irked a faction of the population, was one in which DiVincenzo, who is white, quoted a Meek Mill song.

“I’m ballin’ on these n****s like I’m Derrick Rose,” he tweeted.

DiVincenzo addressed the comments that were dug up in the aftermath of the game and denied having tweeted what was being mentioned. He later deleted his Twitter account, an account which had been disabled, with the most recent tweet coming from two years ago.

Other comments that surfaced before his account’s deletion mentioned female body parts and homosexuality, things that very easily could have been tweeted by friends who got a hold of his phone, or, simply by a high school freshman with relatively no followers and no presence of mind.

None of those reasonable factors seemed to matter, though, as people attempted to stain the character of a player that was building one of the more likeable stories ever in an NCAA Tournament Final. That part of it is disappointing, as there has been, and seemingly always will be a need to tear down public figures once they reach a certain level.

However, what is worse is the precedent that could be set if this specific type of public accountability is carried out moving forward. It’s one thing to hold public figures accountable for their tweets, but it is another thing entirely to hold a public figure accountable for what he or she says at such a young age.

This is not Carolina Panthers reporter Jourdan Rodrigue, who got in hot water this past October after she exposed Cam Newton for a sexist comment in a press conference, but later had racist tweets in her feed from four years prior revealed. Rodrigue was finishing college when she tweeted her racist comments in 2013. DiVincenzo, meanwhile, was just entering high school and none of his comments can be classified as racist.

The bottom line is that today people grow up through the internet, with immaturity and overgrown ideas frozen in time for anyone that wishes to tear down a person’s present-day character. What happened with DiVincenzo is barely scratching the surface of what could come, with more and more emerging athletes and celebrities growing up on social media, a double-edged sword that people of years past did not have to deal with.

And while some people will be able to erase their mistakes before their day of reckoning, others will not. Regardless, I hope that when the next DiVincenzo moment emerges, the star of the game will not be asked about a controversial quote that came straight from the blacktop of middle school recess.

James Justice can be reached at james.justice@student.shu.edu or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.