Look at the events from this past weekend. Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Javon Belcher murdered his girlfriend and later took his own life in front of Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel. Saint Louis University head men’s basketball coach Rick Majerus passed away due to ongoing heart problems at the age of 64.
Both of those events ranged somewhere in the spectrum of tremendously sad to horrendously tragic. Both also required an inherent element of care and soul. Social media, however, shows that many people don’t see stories in that light. People see these stories as a way to take a cowardly and ignorant shot at an undeserved target behind the protection of a computer screen and an identity unknown to 99.99% of the world.
The positive uses of social media are always in the spotlight. The way that social media can connect people anywhere in the world is unparalleled. The versatility for business and personal use is being further discovered every single day. But the negatives can sometimes be forgotten in all of the positives. And even though social media has done countless good for news stories such as the aforementioned, social media also shows a side of people that would best be never seen.
Twitter in particular is an interesting tool. In 140 characters or less, people can get a glimpse into the soul of any user. Sometimes it can be quite pleasant. Other times it can be downright horrifying.
All it takes is a simple search on a topic to see the reaction. Take Rick Majerus’ death for example. He was considered one of the great guys in the college basketball game, but some people still find it alright to comment on his weight (see below).
Rick Majerus just died?!? Good basketball coach. Morbidly obese. I guess that's what happens.
— Will Mullen (@Mullenaire) December 2, 2012
Should we even take the time to acknowledge this sort of comment? Maybe not. But it should serve as a moment to learn about mankind. It should serve as a reminder this is the way some people think. These are the types of people that are in this crazy world of ours.
In times like this, Twitter can also keep the trolls honest. CBS Sports, a fine news outlet in many respects, had the gall to post about the fantasy impact of Jovan Belcher’s murder/suicide as details were still being discovered. As George Okuhara points out below, there should not be a place for this in the world (and we all know that CBS handled the situation poorly during their coverage on Sunday as well).
Absolutely disgusting decision by @cbssports to post the "fantasy impact" of Jovan Belcher's death. twitter.com/gregokuhara/st…
— Greg Okuhara (@gregokuhara) December 1, 2012
Of course these are some of the most emotional of situations, but it can be seen even in what is a much more trivial situation. We know that the Philadelphia Eagles are in the midst of a less than stellar situation to say the least. Leading up to the season, tragic news came out of Eagles training camp at Lehigh that head coach Andy Reid’s son had died in what was later confirmed as a drug overdose.
In two events that are not relatable, fans still take their hatred of Andy Reid to new heights. Fans constantly attack Reid on the basis of his weight, which is so incredibly superficial it almost pains me to admit that I share the same favorite team as some of these people. His weight and poor win/loss record this season has prompted an internet movement, “Trim the fat, #FireAndy.”
If that isn’t bad enough, fans have found a way to take this to a new level. Though the exact tweet in my mind could not be located, I specifically recall one saying in summary that Reid should go die and join his son in hell. I’ll let that sink in for a moment.
The statement is horrifyingly eloquent in a way of insensitivity and ignorance. A better explanation of Twitter trolling could not be thought up by the best of us.
What it truly shows though is that the lines of fanhood have been blurred. Love and hate for a team and its players has gone well beyond the boundaries of the playing field. It has spilled over into life itself and Twitter gives us a window into how ugly it can truly be.
I’m not necessarily talking about how these trolls affect the business of sport (although in the case of CBS Sports’ miscues we can see how the business of sport can corrupt some minds). What I’m talking about here is one of the unintended consequences of the business of sport. Shedding more and more light on the business has increased fan need for information, and the past examples of Twitter reactions shows the blurring of fanhood and ignorance.
There’s no way to control the trolls. The trolls will always be there. There’s no way to shut the trolls out. But what we can do is use the trolls as a reminder. It’s a reminder that we can all be better, and if we’re all trying to better ourselves, then we can make a difference in this world.
Follow Kevin Rossi on Twitter @kevin_rossi.