Time To Draw a Line: Are Angry Fans Beginning To Get out of Hand?

Ethan NovakAnalyst IIMarch 21, 2011

DURHAM, NC - DECEMBER 01:  Cameron Crazies watch on during the game between the Michigan State Spartans and the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 1, 2010 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Sports are emotional, there is no doubting that. 

With every game that takes place, college or professional, you are bound to come across more than a few angry fans cursing the very existence of a rival player. The sports may vary, but the animosity remains the same. 

Ravens fans hate Ben Roethlisberger the same way Lakers fans hate Kevin Garnett, with all their heart and their soul. Whenever two rivals are playing, search the twitter feed and you'll find plenty of profanity-laced rants, silly generalizations and envious taunts.

The need-to-hate, or "talk smack," has always been there. It is as much a part of tradition as your lucky jersey and it is something that we all have participated in. Just this morning a friend and I took turns exchanging insults about our football team's beloved quarterbacks (his precious Philip Rivers against my Rams' Sam Bradford).

As much of a normality as it has become, it has taken an ugly turn in recent years through the introductions of cell phones, social networking sites and other variables.

Twitter is a social networking site whose popularity has blossomed over the last year.  During games, it really is a fun place to go and read others' comments on a game.  Whether it be the wit, ignorance, emotion or all-out strangeness of the tweets, they are for the most part entertaining. 

However, with several athletes taking part in Twitter to interact with friends, family and fans, it has now provided fans with a unique opportunity, a direct link to share their feelings about an athlete with the athlete himself (whether they be positive or negative). 

As fun as this can be to have the possibility of your favorite athletes knowing of your existence (when Rams' RB Steven Jackson tweeted me back, I nearly fainted), it also has brought out the worst in several fans. 

Today during the Michigan-Duke game, freshman phenom Kyrie Irving scored 11 points, grabbed 3 rebounds and dished 2 assists in a winning effort. It wasn't a great game, but he got the job done. Meanwhile, a member of Twitter (whose username I won't provide in the hopes that she doesn't gain followers or popularity) chose to attack Irving in the most disturbing ways possible through 17 tweets. The tweets consisted of, but weren't restricted to:

"@kyrieirving I hope u break your other (beep)ing toe (beep) !"

"@dre_day20 make sure u tell that (beep) Irving I hope he dies"

Those were honestly the tamest of the tweets. The rest are far more offensive and profanity-laced, and I would highly discourage you from reading them.

Irving, who was clearly offended by the tweets (specifically the ones that brought his family into it), received overwhelming support from fans, fellow athletes such as OSU's Jared Sullinger and the Wizards' John Wall, and even a few people who admitted to strongly disliking Duke. 

This was clearly a case of a troll, or someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous or off-topic messages in an online community...with the primary intent of provoking other users into a desired emotional response (Source: wikipedia). However, the fact that someone could dig deep down enough to pull out such absurd remarks just begs the question:

Have fans been getting absurdly personal over the last few years?

- During his time in college, Tim Tebow's phone number was passed around like a dish at Thanksgiving. The final result was him having to change his number after receiving hundreds of threatening messages.

- JJ Redick was arguably the most hated college athlete of all time. Whether it was his tendency to hold his follow through a little too long, his ability to score from anywhere or the fact that his jersey had the letters D-U-K-E on the front of it, he was a target of fans everywhere. 

Fans wore t-shirts bearing the words "I'm going to name my kid JJ...and beat him everyday." They caused him to change his phone number five times, and even threw out sexual statements about his sister (who was 12 years old at the time). 

- The whole LeBron James fiasco. James has faced more hate over the past few months than any other athlete alive (keep in mind, this isn't a reflection of whether or not the fans' actions are justifiable).

So many people forget that athletes are humans, just like the rest of us. They have friends and they go to the movies and they have a job just like all of us. Sometimes the fans are so caught up in their envy or hate that they lose sight of certain boundaries.

There is a fine line in smack talk, a line that usually is drawn at personal attacks.  Attacking a player's game is fine and is a common practice at games:

Hey pitcher! Want me to pull up Google Maps to help you find the plate!?!

It is when fans resort to attacking the players life, family and background that is sickening. For some fans, nothing is too far.

Once again, these athletes are human. They are simply playing a game for a living. We can argue about how much more than a game sports actually are, but at the end of the day that is what it boils down to: a bunch of people pejoratively criticizing athletes for asinine reasons.

I know the hardcore, rah-rah fans will say that athletes simply need to just suck it up, that it comes with the territory, but put yourself in their shoes for a moment. And please, hold all "well, with the money they're making..." comments. 

So what do you think? Have social networks and cell phones caused fans to become far more hostile over the last five to 10 years? Or is this just a case of "all in good fun?"