This year’s regular season of domestic baseball is now well under way, with the first two months’ scheduled games having been played out; fans are slowly starting to feel the fever of anticipation that peaks during the fall postseason. However, a recent incident on the field has received all the wrong kinds of publicity – in a late-May game, the LG Twins pulled off an unlikely victory against the SK Wyverns, who were arguably the better side, with a walk-off run batted in in the bottom of the ninth inning. During the interview of Eui-Yoon Jeong, the player with the winning hit, teammate Chan-Gyu Im threw water onto Jeong in celebration, but misdirected it and ended up soaking the interviewer as well. Following this incident, there was much furious backlash from the online community, with disparaging comments verging on slander, directed toward both Im and the LG Twins. The broadcasting network that covered the game, KBSN, also spoke out – one producer from the network made gratuitous comments about the character of baseball players via Twitter, while the network stated that it would no longer interview the LG Twins. Although things have calmed with the Korea Baseball Association stepping in and KBSN eventually dropping the boycott, this incident has nonetheless illuminated a major social issue.
The first thing to take note from this episode is that, as has been the case for some time, netizens in this country are abusing the anonymity and freedom granted to them on the Internet. In their harsh criticism of Im, many of the arguments these “keyboard warriors” put forth did not hold up; yes, an apology was clearly owed to the reporter, who dealt with the incident professionally and admirably, but beyond this, neither Im nor anyone else in baseball had any obligations. Sporting celebrations are by nature silly, messy affairs with anyone nearby often getting caught up in it, and sports reporters should be prepared for such involvement. That certain viewers decided to make a bigger issue out of the incident than was warranted by overplaying aspects such as the safety of the reporter (if the microphones were not waterproof, as has been claimed, countless reporters would surely have died by now) and the players’ right to celebrate is a shame.
Equally troubling is the amateur and hypocritical response given by the network regarding the incident. Improper conduct is fault of not only the fortunes of the network riding on the back of baseball – it currently is the season for baseball, Korea’s favorite sport, and other networks would love nothing more than to monopolize its coverage – but the televising stations, too. Reporters allegedly gaining access to teams’ dugouts is an example of how broadcasters have already blurred the line between what is and is not permissible. To blame a player for his “excessive” celebrations when the stations themselves have shown misconduct is truly laughable. In any case, regardless of whether the player was at fault, the televising network should not slander him or any other players publicly, as was the case with KBSN’s belittling official comments. In its statement, the station alluded to the LG Twin’s poor form in recent years – an act of petty reprisal that only deprives them of their own dignity.
This incident has exposed the issue of respect and propriety in Korean society. Instances of internet users speaking ill of public figures while remaining anonymous are now widespread to the point of ubiquity, and such habits have apparently rubbed off on more identifiable personages who demonstrate their idiocy with inappropriate remarks. Etiquette and common sense appear to have no place in a hyper-competitive Korean society that has clearly given up on such elements in recent times. That the Korean league is a David quite incomparable to the Goliaths of the American or Japanese leagues is an irony that should not be lost on anyone.