There’s a fine line between criticism and pure venom, and it’s a line that’s often lost when it comes to social media and live sporting events. This is nothing new, of course. Still, the bottomless pit is hard to process, even for the power users who have grown accustomed to the weekly ritual.
For ample evidence of this, head over to Twitter. Type “Jeff Driskel” into the search above, and watch the responses—some of which are truly revolting—fill up your screen. Threats, cursing and extreme negativity can be found in mass amounts.
Here are just a few (of many) to provide an idea. Some of these were also censored.
I want to know how Jeff Driskel got into UF...he sucks at football and he has to be retarded after watching him play today— Wolf Chance (@chancethewolf) September 7, 2013
Jeff driskel should die— Eddie Walker (@MIAwaka) September 7, 2013
Either Jeff Driskel was trying really hard to throw that game or he's just terrible.— Brad Slaughter (@BradforddJr) September 7, 2013
Jeff Driskel, you hack cost the Gators the game. Terrible QB— Andy Steele (@ATLphan7) September 7, 2013
Following Florida’s ugly 21-16 loss to Miami, a game where the Gator quarterback threw two key interceptions and struggled to get the offense moving once again, the Internet responded.
After all, the Internet is rarely at a loss for words.
This, of course, isn’t new. The likes of LeBron James, Alex Rodriguez and other marquee professional athletes that are often in the spotlight for various reasons cope with this—by not dealing (or responding) to it at all—on a regular basis.
The immediate access to both celebrities and athletes is a significant reason why Twitter has exploded in recent years, for better and worse. This access is what draws people in, and it’s also what causes many of these same stars to avoid their mentions—which can be terrible at times—or close down their feed altogether.
These are professionals, however. Paid athletes who are compensated to perform well, but also to deal with the assumed criticism that comes with the job. No one, regardless of salary or status, should ever be cursed at in any form of communication. But the zeroes stacked at the end of the paycheck are a way to justify some of the nonsense and inappropriate responses from a nameless avatar.
It’s different with college athletes, and the line between student and celebrity is often as hazy as the line between acceptable and appropriate responses.
Criticizing Jeff Driskel’s play on the field is one thing, as is throwing around humor—something one can do successfully (and still tastefully) to break up the monotony of the day. There’s that line, however, that should not be crossed. Threats, over-the-top cursing and a tone where sarcasm is absent in the form of hatred have no place anywhere, which is something many often forget.
This was not just an issue for Jeff Driskel or other players who come up short in big moments, but college athletics as a whole.
As bad as some of the responses were on Saturday, they pale in comparison to the recruiting backlash that occurs on a weekly basis. When a player decides to commit to a school, the fan bases who watched their desired hat stay motionless on the table often produce some vile responses.
It's social media at its worst, but it's almost expected at this point, which is sad.
The majority of football fans know where the lines are and when not to cross them. Being critical is one thing, as is playing into the sarcastic side that makes social media thrive, but going above and beyond is another.
In the end, there's only a small percentage of imbeciles that make larger groups look bad. That should be comforting in a way, but somehow it's not despite the familiar routine.
Jeff Driskel was at the wrong end of these responses after a poor performance, but he's certainly not the first to acquire this bullseye.
And he definitely won't be the last.
There’s also a significant difference between being critical—something we are paid to do respectfully—and the bashing that will often turn personal or downright evil.