It’s been half a year since Matthew Ross got cancelled for a tweet, and he’s finally ready to rebuild his public face.
“A tweet” might be an exaggeration. He expressed an opinion on Twitter, and then doubled down when criticized about it, until the backlash was so much he disabled his Twitter account, and lost his weekend morning show on TSN 690.
Now he’s doing what most dismissed radio personalities do these days: starting a video podcast. Called “Are You Game?” it features Ross talking about sports — there’s an episode about the failed Expos-Rays plan, and another about Pierre Karl Péladeau and the Expos.
It’s low-budget, but it’s more about giving himself an outlet to express himself than it is about making money.
When Ross lost his show on TSN 690, I asked him if he wanted to talk about it. Like most people in similar situations, he declined, saying he was going through a lot and didn’t want to talk about it publicly yet. He said he’d get in touch when he was ready.
I didn’t expect I’d hear back, but a few weeks ago he reached out and said he was willing to talk now. We set up a video chat and I asked him about his life, his controversy and why he wants to put himself out there again after all that.
Before the cancellation
For those who might be unfamiliar, Ross was never a full-time radio person. His day job, which he asked not to discuss, isn’t in radio. But he had been on the radio for almost two decades until last fall.
He began hosting on what was then Team 990 in 2003, and over the years his relationship with the station grew until in the fall of 2016 he started hosting weekend mornings with Dave Trentadue. In a refrain I’ve heard a lot from CKGM people in the sports-talk era, there wasn’t much of a budget for content.
“The one thing I was very proud of at the station,” he said, “drive shows have these built-in guests. I always had to think outside the box.”
Without access to all the big names that you’d hear regularly on Mitch Melnick’s afternoon show or with Shaun Starr in the mornings, Ross expanded the topics beyond the usual fare, talking about amateur sports and college sports, and of course regularly chatting about the long-lost Montreal Expos.
Expos Nation started as a Facebook fan page, but grew in the 2010s as nostalgia for the team led to real hopes they might someday come back. Events like Andre Dawson’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame fuelled the fire, leading to the Toronto Blue Jays and Evenko organizing preseason exhibition games at Olympic Stadium starting in 2014.
Local rapper Annakin Slayd produced an optimistic video about the Canadiens, and “I asked if he felt like doing an Expos song.”
(Has it really been more than a decade since all this?)
Ross is far from the only one fuelling the Expos nostalgia fire or the desire to bring a team back to the city. Former player Warren Cromartie has been pushing the idea since the beginning. And events like ExposFest (no relation to Expos Nation) are turning that nostalgia into a business.
Anyway, that was Ross before Sept. 13, 2022, when his public life took a dramatic turn.
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) September 14, 2022
It started with this tweet from the Toronto Blue Jays, showing designated hitter Alejandro Kirk running from first base all the way home that day. It was the second game of a doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays, and the run wasn’t significant in terms of the game — it was the eighth inning and the Jays were already up 5-2.
Ross says he found it odd the Jays would post such a video. Do baseball teams normally post videos like this? Was there some unspoken reason this particular one was significant?
He retweeted the video the next morning, adding this:
It’s cute and all, but it’s also embarrassing for the sport. Giving guys like this prominence feeds negative (baseball) stereotypes.
I asked Ross the Jay Leno/Hugh Grant question: What were you thinking?
“I saw a video of a professional athlete running the bases,” he said. “It almost felt like the Blue Jays were making fun of the athlete in posting that video. I felt like it was an excuse for those who don’t love baseball to make fun of baseball.”
It’s a slightly more nuanced take, with the benefit of hindsight. And Ross admits he should have expressed himself better. “The manner in which my thoughts were put out there were mean-spirited and snarky,” he says now.
It might not have blown up if it wasn’t for one of Kirk’s teammates, Alex Manoah. The pitcher found Ross’s tweet and retweeted it, blasting Ross as a fat shamer who will discourage overweight kids from wanting to play the sport.
What’s actually embarrassing for the sport is people that go by the name of Matthew and have never played a day in the big leagues thinking they can control the narrative and stereotypes. Go ahead and tell that 8 year old kid who is 10lbs over weight that he should quit now. Or https://t.co/c4cbTABMbx
— MANOAH (@Alek_Manoah6) September 15, 2022
“What’s actually embarrassing for the sport is people that go by the name of Matthew and have never played a day in the big leagues thinking they can control the narrative and stereotypes. Go ahead and tell that 8 year old kid who is 10lbs over weight that he should quit now,” Manoah wrote to his 60,000 followers, many of whom quickly also jumped to Kirk’s defence.
As the backlash started building, Ross’s first instinct wasn’t to calm down and try to solve a misunderstanding. It was to double down and go after Manoah with a quote-tweet of his own:
When a pro baseball player takes your words & twists them to suit his simple, defaming narrative of you.
Fat-shaming? That’s insane. I questioned the optics of a PRO player, & how it feeds into the declining view that casual sports fans have about MLB. PERIOD.
Another tweet replying to Manoah:
You’re too narrow-minded to see that I am DEFENDING baseball. Ratings, attendance and interest in younger demographics are down. And the image of the athletes, and who is marketed to the masses, matters.
Imagine how much better he’d be if he were in better shape.
Manoah fired back, noting that millions of people voted for Kirk to start in the All-Star Game, before making a crack about Ross’s nose.
By now the discussion had gotten out of control. Replies, quote tweets, screenshots were coming in by the dozens. Some online media started writing about the tweets. A couple of guys devoted a podcast episode to it. The Toronto Star wrote about it.
Imagine how much better the world would be if you would deactivate from life.
— Jrot (@jrot44_88) September 15, 2022
“It’s not who I am,” Ross said of the narrative that had built about him online. “I wasn’t overtly trying to be offensive to anybody. I was commenting on a professional athlete making millions of dollars, thinking he could do better for himself.
“It should have just ended there, but his teammate took the conversation and related it to kids, which broke my heart. Because I’ve been around stuff like that for a long time in a personal way. I was commenting on a professional athlete and I’m being accused of fat-shaming kids.”
The backlash got to be so strong that Ross eventually disabled his Twitter account and went on social media silence.
“I had to shut down all my social media. I got a couple of death threats. I got a lot of hate.”
Fucking loser deleted his account. pic.twitter.com/YKrWbLeWhG
— Human Eraser Supporter Dudgee (@Dudgee) September 15, 2022
It’s hard for most people to understand what it’s like when the online mob turns on you. You might think it’s just people expressing themselves and disagreeing in public, that those who dish it out need to be able to take it. But these pile-ons can be very intense. Dozens, hundreds, even thousands of messages. Some are just mean or snarky, others are nasty and some can be extreme, even threatening. And when this pile-on happens because of something controversial you’ve said, your friends are usually reluctant to defend you, for fear that they will become the next target. It’s you against an army of keyboard warriors who a week ago had never heard of you and who are convinced you’re the worst person in the world. Even the toughest of personalities will eventually crack under the psychological pressure.
Go ahead, try to read just two days worth of replies to his tweets and imagine they were writing to you because of something stupid you said. I gave up after several hundred.
Individually, they weren’t necessarily horrible. Many were insulting, or used vulgar language, but most were explicitly criticizing what he was saying. I couldn’t find any explicit death threats (at least none that are still up), just a lot of being mean, whether trying to give Ross a taste of his own medicine or just because people are too outraged to be nice about it.
A single response, or a handful, could be ignored or blocked. But when it becomes such a flood of negativity, it can weigh on you.
@matthewwords can go to hell. He’s fit for that level.
— Yummyroll (@yummyroll) September 15, 2022
“When you feel like the whole world hates you, it’s an overwhelming feeling,” he said. “I had to have that uncomfortable conversation with my two daughters.”
With the fires of the mob continuing to grow, Ross decided he had to admit he was wrong.
“I have to be accountable,” he said. “The best thing I could do was apologize and reassess how I interact with the public.”
Three days after his first tweet on the subject, he issued an apology. It was an honest attempt to try to explain what he was thinking.
“I thought about the hundreds of people lifetime who’ve attacked me for loving baseball and who’ve said they’re not athletes, so I ineloquently tweeted what I did because I thought the clip would lead to more jokes about the sport. That was it. It was never about anything else,” he wrote.
He said he was “insensitive and wrong for posting this” but mitigated that a bit by saying that “the narrative went in a different direction” after Manoah’s response. “It never dawned on me that this is where the topic could go. I was simply a sports host having a take on something sports related.”
For Ross’s critics, it was too little, too late. The criticisms continued, and TSN 690 informed him his show was being cancelled.
“They took a couple of days, and then told me they can’t proceed with my show,” he said. “It’s a publicly traded company, I can only assume that their hands were tied.”
Hey @TSN690, I can't seem to find Weekend Game Plan host @MatthewWords on twitter anymore. Care to comment or are we just going to pretend he didn't fat shame people on twitter last night and get into it with one of the Blue Jays starting pitchers?
— Zak Brown Big Dad Energy (he/him) (@DHSpeedwagon) September 15, 2022
In this story, Ross was the villain, and Alejandro Kirk and Alex Manoah were the heroes. Dove, which markets itself as a “real beauty” brand despite its parent company also owning Axe Body Spray, gave Manoah a $100,000 sponsorship explicitly because of this incident, which Manoah then donated to a charity.
With the villain effectively cancelled, people moved on.
But just because you’re cancelled doesn’t mean you cease to exist.
“I had to go away for a few months.”
For Ross, the days after the storm started were filled with frustration. People who had no idea who he was before all this were misunderstanding him, making him out to be someone he’s not, he said.
Eventually, he came to accept the difference between intent and impact.
“I was trying to re-explain and re-explain my intent, but it didn’t matter, the train had already left the station. It was no longer about the player, it was about the concept of body image,” he said. “People were hurt by that, it broke my heart, it’s not who I am. This whole situation reminded me that people have to think about kindness and humanity and humility.”
You can run
But you can't hide
— Lewis (@LewisFosterRHP) September 15, 2022
As if taking his cues from a crisis PR textbook (Ross has worked in PR), Ross said he took “several classes in terms of personal growth and education.”
On one hand, he was no longer burning himself out working full-time and getting up at 5am on weekends while also taking care of his family. But on the other hand, he missed having that microphone.
His feelings about TSN 690 are mixed.
“I would have liked to see them advocate for me a bit more because I was such a company man,” he said. “I haven’t listened to the radio station since September. It feels painful, I guess. I’d always listened to Melnick. It just brings up the fact that I’m not part of it anymore.”
While his reputation was being dragged through the mud, there wasn’t much from his colleagues, except for Trentadue. A few “surfacey” comments but little real support, Ross said.
“I think there was a culture of trying to save their own jobs,” he said. “You really learn what your friends are.”
He said he understands that with Bell Media, like any publicly traded company, “ramifications are swift.” But “19 years with the same station. It was a prideful thing, it was part of my identity.”
“I went through an unplugging of social media. I followed a lot less sports over the fall.”
With some of his new free time, he worked on some personal growth.
“A lot of courses I did online on a platform. Maybe about 10 or so? Some of them were an hour and a half, some were 45 minutes. Things that would help me open my eyes. Even things you think you know. I wanted to make sure that I was doing the right things in order to move forward in a public way.”
“It took me a long time, but here I am.”
The new project
After all this, why put himself out there again?
“I missed it,” he said. “I missed commenting on things. I missed hosting. I missed giving my take on things. It’s cathartic, it’s fun. It forces me to be sharp, and I like that. I love interviewing people, and I’ve always I think been a good interviewer. I think that’s where we’re going to take this.”
Besides Ross’s takes, the show plans to “interview people and have interesting debates,” going beyond the usual knee-jerk sports talk fare. “It won’t just be sports,” he said, with interviews “on the political side” as well.
The goal is to “talk a lot of sports in an intelligent and entertaining way” with a lot of “asking why” instead of recounting what.
“I just think that there’s an audience for intelligent programs that are fun but also give you a different aspect or a different angle,” he said.
I asked Ross how much of a runway he will give this show to determine if it works.
“It depends how it’s received,” he responded. “If nobody cares, then I’ll go away, I’ll go back to anonymity. But I think I have something to offer, and this new format is going to give me the opportunity to not be worried about going to a commercial break.”
Could Ross ever go back to TSN?
“That’s really up to them,” he told me. “I have no ill-will whatsoever. It just makes me sad that I’m not there.”
I tried to get a statement from Bell Media about Ross. TSN’s program director, Chris Bury, directed me to corporate PR, as per company policy. I never heard back from Bell Media’s communications team.
In the meantime, Ross is back on social media. His reactivated Twitter account has a new handle, @MatthewEvolves.
It's with humility, gratuity, humanity, personal growth & empathy that I rejoin Twitter. What I lost happened for a reason. What I learned/gained changed me for the better. I hope my tweets & new projects will simply be enjoyable & positive to all.
— Matthew Ross ??????????????? (@MatthewEvolves) February 9, 2023
I asked him about the change of handle.
“I just thought fresh start, it’s just as basic as that,” he said. “If you’re going to shed different negativities and you’re going to start something, it deserves a new handle I thought.”
The tweet above had 16 replies, none of which were negative. The mob that formed to get him cancelled don’t follow him on Twitter.
“Since I’ve been back there’s been no trolling, no incidents,” he said.
He hopes enough water has passed under the bridge that he can re-enter public life.
“As long a you show a genuine remorse and a willingness to grow from it, … people are genuinely forgiving,” he said. “Accountability is the most important thing, and it’s something I’ve taken accountability for.”
“I never thought i was the kind of person that would get in trouble for something I said. No complaints in 19 years. That tells you all you need to know about social media,” Ross told me.
“People use social media to vent, and people need to realize that not every negative thought needs to be said publicly.”
It’s a lesson he learned himself the hard way.