Social media cuts South Korean baseball player’s career short
Controversy erupts over Hanwha Eagles’ decision to oust Kim Won-seok over his private messages
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Former Hanwha Eagles outfielder Kim Won-seok is at a crossroads in his baseball career. His one-on-one social media messages with an undisclosed female fan have cost him his career, weeks after some of the messages were made public by a third person who had obtained captured images of them.
In those revealed Instagram direct messages between July and September, Kim, 28, called his team’s then-manager Lee Sang-gun an idiot and the Chungcheong Province, where the Eagles’ home city is located, a region crowded with stupid people. He also labelled President Moon Jae-in a communist.
Some of Kim’s private messages were captured and posted on DC Inside, a website designed for discussion of various topics, early October.
Kim’s fan bragged of ties with the baseball player and sent screen shots of Kim’s messages to convince her disbelieving friend. The friend of Kim’s fan “shared” those messages with internet users by posting them on the website.
Kim’s private messages drew mixed reactions from internet users. Some defended Kim and said everybody complains about their boss or political leaders in private conversations, so what Kim said about his manager and the President in his one-on-one messages with his fan was understandable. But some accused Kim of his use of inappropriate words.
The Eagles were swift and resolute. On Monday night, the Daejeon-based baseball club summoned Kim, who was in Japan for his team’s training camp there, to a disciplinary committee, and hours later announced their decision to oust the outfielder. The Eagles put him on waivers as a free agent. During the waiver period, other teams are allowed to make a waiver claim to add him to their team.
“It was inevitable (for the Eagles) to take firm action against him because his inappropriate messages were made public and spread online,” the club said in a statement on Monday.
The Eagles reportedly took the case seriously as the front office believed Kim crossed the line.
However, the Eagles’ sanctions on Kim are controversial.
Kim Jin-sook, a partner in the Seoul law firm Barun Law, said the baseball club’s decision was unfair for the player.
“Kim is the victim,” she said. “It was not the player who posted his messages to the internet. His private messages were posted against his will by a third person.”
The lawyer went on to say that under the law, it is not fit to punish Kim.
Rather, she said the third person who disclosed Kim’s private messages are subject to punishment. He or she can face up to 10 years in prison for violating the Law on Protection of the Secrecy of Telecommunications, according to the lawyer.
It was inevitable for the Hanwha Eagles to face the double jeopardy allegation. The Eagles fined Kim in early October when the screencaps of his messages spread online and caused a stir. Weeks later, the club ousted the outfielder as his remarks kept spreading online despite the team’s initial measures.
The club punished the same player twice for the same case.
The Eagles’ unusually tough measures, meanwhile, have generated a pros-and-cons debate online.
Public figures’ rights to privacy and their freedom of expression are at the centre of the controversy. Some internet users criticised the Eagles for the decision to fire the outfielder because of his private messages which were disclosed against his will.
Pedj**** wrote. “I’m not speaking for Kim. But isn’t it too harsh for the baseball player to lose his job just because of his private messages? He faced such grave consequences maybe because of his expression about the President.”
In an undated private message with his fan, Kim wrote “Thanks. Jae-in, the red.” Red is the colour Koreans use when they refer to a communist or a sympathiser of communism.
Some internet users speculated the Hanwha Eagles’ management would have felt pressure for their player’s scathing remarks about the sitting President as they might fear possible political retaliation and thus were swift to let him go to curry favour with the Moon government.
Some raised the issue of freedom of expression. “Should we watch our tongue even when we exchange views with our friends in private messages?” one internet user wrote in response to an online news article about Kim.
Some internet users, however, blamed Kim for his inappropriate use of words. As a public figure, they said it was unprofessional for the player to use such bad words in his messages with his fan.
Some internet users cited former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson’s famous remarks about the curse of social media for athletes. In 2011, Ferguson said “Twitter is a waste of time.” He pointed out the dangers of social media for football players as they could face unwanted consequences because of their postings.