This Politician's Response to José Fernández's Death Completely Missed the Point

September 25th 2016

Aron Macarow

A member of the Florida House of Representatives who is running for U.S. Congress found himself in the crosshairs on Twitter this morning after his response to the death of Miami Marlins star pitcher José Fernández struck an online nerve.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, politicized the death of Fernández, who died unexpectedly in a boating accident early Sunday morning, with a tweet that drew a comparison with NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Gaetz suggested that the continued Black Lives Matter protest of Kaepernick and other athletes dishonors Fernández's life because the MLB pitcher fled Cuba to settle in the United States.

The response from Twitter was immediate and highlighted exactly why Gaetz's tweet was so tone deaf.

First some history: Fernández attempted to defect from Cuba unsuccessfully three times prior to successfully fleeing the country for the United States in 2007, with each attempted defection followed by a prison term.

The Miami Marlins pitcher finally reached the U.S. successfully in 2007, along with his sister and mother, who almost died after falling overboard during their journey.

Many on Twitter were familiar with Fernández's story and pointed out that the star baseball player fled Cuba to escape an oppressive government that would punish him for actions exactly like Kaepernick's — such as not standing during the national anthem.

Strike one against Gaetz for not seeing that his comparison was illogical, since Kaepernick's ability to protest rather than be coerced by the government into expressions of patriotism is exactly why Fernández came to the U.S. in the first place.

That's not the only reason Twitter took issue with Gaetz.

Strike two against Gaetz, a fervent Donald Trump supporter, was his stance on immigration and amnesty, which would not have been in Fernández's favor.

Twitter again was quick to point out the glaring hypocrisy in his tweet, calling the Republican politician out for his prior opposition to "any form of amnesty" and for other extreme measures against immigration, such as Trump's proposed wall.

Strike three would be Gaetz's politicizing of Fernández's death so quickly.

For his part, Gaetz seemed to understand that the internet is angry with him. Since his original tweet, he's responded to one critic by thanking him for his "thoughtful dialogue" and retweeted a photo from Florida Gov. Rick Scott that his prayers were with Fernández's family and baseball team.

What remains to be seen is whether Twitter will forgive him so easily for the gaffe.