Never let it be said there’s a dull moment on Twitter. But perhaps the most innocuous of tweets seems to be speaking louder to me than all others:
Kevin DeShazo (@KevinDeShazo) May 15, 2013
It’s not so much the tweet but the story link that has captured my attention. Here’s the headline:
Brennan: Too much made of Twitter rants on athletes
In a USA Today article, columnist Christine Brennan discusses the recent epidemic of fans harassing athletes on Twitter. For clarification and the sake of this column, I will call it harassing. Because that’s what it is as evidenced by some of the tweets directed this week at highly sought after basketball recruit,Andrew Wiggins.
Rumors were that Wiggins was headed to Florida State. No, make that Kentucky. Rumors of where only heightened fans interest in his decision. When he decided yesterday to attend the University of Kansas, non-Kansas fans let loose with their venom according to this article from Sports Grid.
18-year-old Canadian high school basketball sensation Andrew Wiggins, who on Tuesday picked Kansas over Florida State, Kentucky and North Carolina.
This decision of course did not please fanatics who follow those other three schools, so they did what any red-blooded, hot-headed sports fan does these days and jumped on Twitter to call a high school senior every awful name and slur imaginable. Internet stories then were written quoting some of the most egregious comments, thereby giving those who tweeted them a great victory: mainstream media validation.
One thing Brennan gets right in the paragraph above, they “jumped on Twitter to call a high school senior ever awful name and slur imaginable”. Fan behavior can sometimes be, shall we say, deplorable, especially on Twitter.
It is at this point in the story where you would figure we all should throw up our hands and talk about how the civilized sports world as we know it is coming to an end and how any semblance of intelligent discourse about sports is over.
But let’s look a little deeper into several of the particularly awful tweets about Wiggins. I’m not going to name the accounts they came from, and no family newspaper would ever quote the words they used, but there is other information we can use to judge their impact, their reach and their so-called clout.
The focus in the remainder of Brennan’s article is on the effectiveness of these tweets (follower numbers, etc.). That, in itself, misses part of the beauty of Twitter: communication. As Kevin DeShazo of Fieldhouse Media points out in his rebuttal article:
How many Twitter followers these idiots (I won’t call them fans) have isn’t the issue. They aren’t trying to be “worldwide social commentators.” They are sending tweets with Wiggins’ Twitter handle, meaning they want Wiggins to see the tweets. Hateful, awful, violent, racist tweets. And he does. Whether or not the world does is irrelevant.
Fans are communicating their feelings at athletes, teams and media in ways we’ve never seen on this massive of a scale. I know this because I’ve written on it here, here and here to highlight just a few. Fans can be passionate without hatred. We can trash-talk without bitterness. We can love our teams without disparaging, threatening or telling others to go kill themselves, when our team loses. We don’t have to behave this way.
But fans have turned their love of teams/schools into part of their identity. Every loss, every recruit-rejection becomes an affront to the individual fan. Fans take it personally and lash out. And because of that aforementioned beauty of Twitter, fans lash out AT the affronting individual as if it was a “personal” rejection of the fan themselves.
And that, ultimately, is the point missed by Ms. Brennan. Twitter has enabled some fans to go far beyond what they would do in person or at a game. Flipping an athlete off is one thing (yeah, I’m looking at you Miami Heat lady). But tweets filled with hatred, racial epithets and wishes of harm are inexcusable. To let it go unchallenged, is to condone its acceptance. The only way fan behavior will change is to challenge it. For far too long, the rules have simply been to make fun of “fanatics” or ignore them. That was before we had the tools necessary to police ourselves as fans. We have Twitter. We have blogs. We have Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Google+, etc. Public forums where we fans can say enough already.
Challenging fan behavior isn’t providing “media validation”. It’s simply saying: