A few weeks ago, Dara O’Kearney and I penned a couple of op-eds, discussing Daniel Negreanu’s now deleted tweets about who is good/bad for poker. We both came at it from different places, with slightly different perspectives but it’s fair to say that there was a lot of overlap. Neither of us like how Daniel refered to certain player types and the contempt he showed for personality types different from his. We also both questioned how in touch Daniel is with the modern game at all levels.
In the days following our blogs, Daniel posted his own blog, explaining how his original tweets were too negative and elaborating on his views. He admitted that his communication had been poor and, in one section, without naming us, it was clear that he was reacting to our blogs, which by then had reached a large readership (easily both of our most read poker blogs). He said:
“I’ve been personally attacked in a couple blogs for my position. I have never taken issue with people disagreeing with my takes, I’m an opinionated person and that’s to be expected… Sometimes people are genuinely looking to have a civil discussion about poker topics, while other times it just feels more like a smear campaign with ulterior motives… If people choose to take my words out of context, or rephrase my views to fit a narrative… it comes with the territory when you choose to be public with your opinions. We are not owed what we deem to be fair press. We can’t control how people choose to present us. Sometimes they will flat out lie, while others may take liberties and twist your words to fit a narrative.”
Hand on heart, this was a very disappointing rebuttal from a man who says that he’s happy to discuss ideas, a bit of wimpy cop-out from someone who says that he is comfortable engaging with his detractors. Casting the well argued criticisms by Dara or I as the words of trolls or ‘haters’ is the ultimate straw-man. Calling our opinion pieces ‘a smear campaign with ulterior motives’ is the ultimate deflection. Bleating ‘it comes with the territory’ and ‘we can’t control how people choose to present us’ is the ultimate snivel.
The most striking thing for Dara and I was the support that our blogs received. We certainly hoped they would resonate with some, maybe even cause a ripple but given that Daniel has 100x our followers on twitter and is still the biggest personality in the game, we anticipated a huge backlash. Instead, in the hours and days after publishing, we were inundated with replies in agreement with our sentiments. We had put our heads above the parapet and discovered no hail of bullets coming towards us but rather allies all around, buoyed, now willing to add to the conversation.
There were, of course, some people who disagreed with us. A common theme of their disagreement was my reference to and Dara’s depiction of Daniel’s blackface. Some people seemed to think that this was off the point. Others, including Daniel himself, called it an ad hominem attack. To those people I say that bringing up blackface was not ad hominem because, as a reference to Daniel’s prior actions which lacked empathy and showed him being out of touch, it was completely in context. Another reference I made was to Daniel’s appearance on Jared Tendler’s show a few years ago when he was asked about his prior comments regarding survivors of abuse ‘choosing’ to be victims if still affected by what happened years later. His response? He doubled down on his position, using the most reductive form of the notion of ‘choice’ to defend his ugly position. Playing semantic games when confronted with real pain endured by real people is heartless at worst and insensitive at best.
The thrust of the arguments made by Dara and I didn’t just concern what Daniel said but also that he felt like he was in a position to say it. Daniel took a dogmatic stance on the types of players he thinks are bad for poker, going so far as to describe some as the cancer of poker. He condemned them from his bully pulpit. Therefore, a reference to other occasions when he maligned people more vulnerable than him (African-Americans and victims of abuse) was, in my opinion, relevant. Those other instances spoke to character as do those now deleted tweets. Something which also speaks to character is Daniel’s response to these instances. When his history of blackface surfaced, he defended himself by referring to another occasion when he blackfaced. He said that he went to a party with all black friends, the girls at the party had make-up with them and how everyone laughed and danced the night away. There is a lot of excuses but no apology on record that I can find. In one of the many twitter threads, Andrew Brokos and I politely asked him to link to when he said sorry and he produced a link to a blog in which he did not. There is an acknowledgment that he caused offense and there is another blog where he says that he said sorry previously but I’ve not been able to locate the original apology to which that refered. If it does exist, it’s weird that it’s so hard to find.
So now, when Daniel calls fellow poker players ‘cancer’ and decrees that some people are bad for poker, his response is to delete the tweets, post a blog that acknowledges some poor communication on his part but also casts him as a bit of a victim now that other people are speaking out against his views. He blocked Dara after his blog came out because he says that posting a still from a video which he took of himself is a auto-block offense. Gimme a break! Grown-ups own their past. They acknowledge what they did. They apologise for their poor behavior. They learn from their mistakes. They don’t sever communication with a distinguished, intelligent, erudite person making a fair criticism of them. They don’t bury their heads in the sand and create safe-spaces filled with fan-boys and yes-men. They don’t prevaricate around saying that they’re sorry and they certainly don’t repeat the same type of insensitive behavior over and over and over again. But to quote something Dara said to me through all of this: “This is the world we live in now. Narcissists blocking people while preaching tolerance.” I fear he might be right.
In his blog, Daniel said that we were engaging in a smear campaign. He said that we had ulterior motives. I am more than happy to say that Daniel has done many positive things for poker. I am also critical of the very negative things he has done for poker in recent years. Criticism is not smear when you are telling the truth and my piece had no ulterior motive. It did however, have a motive. I wanted to give voice to what I thought was an unspoken viewpoint. I hoped the piece would find an audience and maybe even change someone people’s minds. During my final twitter exchange with Daniel, he said that Dara and I were trying to cast him as a monster. When he said that I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him, not because I gave credence to the idea that he thinks that we cast him as a monster but because the most well-known player in the game, an articulate man with the largest megaphone at his disposal, was making such a feeble and poltroon accusation so he could avoid engaging with the substance of our arguments.
Neither Dara nor I think that Daniel is a monster. We just think that he is wrong and that he has a history of being wrong when it comes to people more vulnerable than him.