College Sports Often an Ugly Twitter Powder Keg


By Chris Mahr

More than any other social media device, Twitter is raw emotion.

When you have something to say and you want the world at large to hear it, there’s no built-in device to muffle you. Unlike the moderators of a website’s message boards, the call screeners of your local TV or radio station or (if you’re a journalist) your editors, only you are capable of censoring yourself.

What’s more, the 140-character limit doesn’t give much room for statement clarification. You say what you have/want to say before getting out of there. You’re not starting a conversation, you’re making a statement (most of the time anyway).

Giving people free reign to sound off is a dicey proposition. If you want to look at something that epitomizes the ugliness that often results, look no further than the college sports world. It’s inherently emotional nature has created a “tweet first, ask questions later” atmosphere that has yielded some truly disconcerting results.

I’ll be the first to admit that if it wasn’t for Twitter, I’d find myself struggling to come up with news items to capture readers’ attentions. I don’t just use it as a means of news-gathering, either. Many of the news items I’ve written for Lost Lettermen concern the Twitter posts or interactions themselves.

Often times, these are complete harmless and in good fun. Having Notre Dame DT Louis Nix III exchange trash talk with a porn star and self-professed USC fan is funny. Seeing fans react to the NCAA’s arcane ruling that Louisville’s Kevin Ware can’t accept “get well” gifts is funny (and well warranted). Reading Johnny Manziel’s tweets about why it’s awesome to be Johnny Manziel — latest example: playing a round of golf at Pebble Beach — is the college football equivalent of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous.”

But then there are the darker corners of the Twittersphere. To merely call the people who tread across this ground “tactless” or “trolls” doesn’t do justice to the hateful, vile things they feel is their right to tweet.

There’s the Tennessee fan whose response to what he deems are “sub tweets” from Vanderbilt’s offensive line coach is to tell that coach that his wife “is f*cking someone while you coach your pathetic football team.” He’s joined in the fifth circle of Twitter Hell by numerous fans who wished bodily harm upon Andrew Wiggins after he chose Kansas over their teams; Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla suggesting that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings were a government conspiracy; and the pair of Iowa State fans who issued a death threat to the Kansas basketball team after a hard-fought loss in February.

I don’t consider myself an overly politically correct person. I feel like I can take jokes at my expense and dish them out when need be. But there’s a big difference between joking around and transparent hate. The nature of college sports makes it so that these two behaviors come in constant contact with one another, leading many people to engage in the latter while believing that it’s just as harmless as the former.

There’s no blanket solution to this problem. Twitter is too big, too wild and too accessible to ever pull a Kirk Ferentz and prevent people from using it. Plus, trolls who seek to be crude and outlandish — for the attention, first and foremost — have existed in one form or another ever since sports media and fandom spread to the internet. Now that they’re there, they’re not going anywhere.

Instead, the best (perhaps only) option is to offer a plea, asking college sports fans to channel and control the emotion they carry with them 24/7/365. Wielded properly, it’s what makes college sports so great.

Yet there’s no need to let that passion transform into hatred. Not hatred as in “I hate [insert team name here],” mind you. That’s just the nature of sports. I mean hatred as in disregard for the well-being of one’s fellow man, a wish that life-alteringly bad things — death, dismemberment, etc. — will happen to them.

To support free reign on Twitter is one thing. To support anarchy is completely different.

Chris Mahr is the managing editor of Lost Lettermen. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter at @CMahrtian.

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