Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Bad Weekend In Athlete-Fan Relations


Athletes have been picking fights with haters through Twitter ever since the social media site blew up in use and popularity a few years ago.  But last weekend had several high-profile, and ugly, skirmishes.

Start last Saturday morning, when mixed martial babe Ronda Rousey got on a rant responding to unknown, unnamed fans criticizing her for mulling retirement.  A warning: All the following tweets may have language some people would consider strong, so, uh, NSFW, or something:

Then, presumably after finishing +8 in the PGA Championship Sunday afternoon, golfer (and snazzy dresser) Ian Poulter had something to say about the sudden nuisance of onlookers shouting non sequiturs on the follow-throughs, and sometimes backswings, of his shots:

Overnight Sunday/early Monday morning, fellow English golfer Lee Westwood, coming off a +3 at the PGA Championship, went on a 50-or-so tweet-of-the-soul.  Although, like with Rousey, you can’t quite tell who he’s talking back to, you should still look at the stream.  Very Amanda Bynes-like.  I see two tweets where he’s directly responding to someone:

Finally, and in the most disturbing incident between athlete and fan over the weekend, Adam Jones, star centerfielder for the Baltimore Orioles, announced Tuesday evening he was the victim of a racist gesture while playing in San Francisco against the Giants Sunday – and then announced he was also the victim of those who defended said racist gesture:

The banana thrower, Alexander Poulides, had the gall to out himself and apologized.  He also tried to explain what happened.  So let me get this straight, Al: You were pissed that your defending World Series champion Giants were getting their asses kicked (the Orioles beat them 10-2 and they’re dead last in the National League West, they’re not going to defend their title), so in frustration you turn to a cart that just happens to be there, pick up the first thing you can get your hands on which just happens to be a banana, and throw it a player of the opposing team who just happens to be black.  Either you are lying or you are Larry David.

An athlete in sports getting pissed at a fan is nothing new, but I don’t remember the last time so many of them in different sports have taken to Twitter to fire back at basically the same time.  Many athletes hire public relations firms that oversee and shape his public perception; Tiger Woods is an obvious, though potentially inaccurate, example.  But the rise of Twitter means that a lot of athletes don’t want a bunch of flaks standing inbetween them and the fans they entertain and, indirectly, fund their wealthy lifestyles.  In fact, I think there are many more athletes who don’t mind mixing it up with people who don’t like them or just want to get a rise from them.  If Twitter is the vehicle by which we see sports figures at their worst, and their most real – well then, I have to say that Twitter is absolutely awesome.

But let’s look at the other end of this relationship, and let’s change the version of social media.  I get the feeling Ronda Rousey biting back at her critics has a bit of ego and victimhood behind her tweets, and I certainly am not a fan of Lee Westwood after reading through his bizarre 140-character ramblings challenging his haters like a crazy guy flailing his arms in an empty room with his eyes closed.  Nevertheless, the perception that strangers are emboldened to talk about crap because they are (or at least feel) anonymous and somewhat untouchable on the Internet has been proven true once again.  You can argue that athletes have enough money to put up with the hate, and you can fall back on free speech blah-blah-blah, but people who want to yell at Rousey for contemplating retirement, people who think shouting “Mashed potatoes” or “Baba Booey!” at Poulter’s and Westwood’s drives is funny, and especially people who defend the banana being thrown at Jones as an exercise of one’s First Amendment rights are just pricks, which, admittedly, is nothing new.

Proof of that comes in the outhouse of social media, an article’s comments section.  Yeah, you will never find any decent arguments when you scroll down to the end of a story because all you’ll see are advertisements for penis-enlargement pills and lies about our president.  But it’s still instructional – you know, kind of like scientists who make it their lives’ work to study the composition of fecal matter.

I noticed something very important and very sobering: I checked the comments section on the stories about Jones and the golfers, and while there was plenty of athlete-baiting for all three, there was a lot more support for Poulter and Westwood than for Jones.  (I caught wind of Rousey’s Twitter rage on Awful Announcing.  There are three comments as of press time, all pro-Rousey, all tame.)  For the golfers, it was split 50/50; you get one making fun of them for being hypersensitive, then you get one saying, “Yeah, the people who were shouting were so rude.  Golf is a civilized sport, and these people were just being stupid.”

It was not that way for Jones, and it’s shocking.  Those who were infuriated that a racist gesture, something you see in soccer overseas, found its way to a baseball game were drowned out by idiots who 1) said Jones was being touchy, 2) criticized Jones and those defending him as being politically correct and 3) did not see how throwing a banana at a black man is considered racist.

You’ve got to be kidding me.  For the life of me, I cannot understand how anyone doesn’t understand why that’s racist.  Furthermore, that those people would then go on and start to yell at Adam Jones, a man who had a banana thrown at him, is … man, I don’t know what the hell to say.  Maybe those people equate a banana to a battery or a bottle filled with urine – any projectile, which, on the rare occasion, a player might have to dodge.  But a banana being thrown at an African-American is very different.  It has racist overtones that anyone with any decency and a decent education would comprehend.  I am absolutely stunned that not only would people say that what happened to Jones isn’t wrong but then would go off on a rant that basically accuses Jones of making something racist when it isn’t.  It is racist, you idiots!  You’ve got a comment that’s just dumb, and there are comments that are truly ignorant, you know?  The people who blame Jones for this probably are these teabaggers that want Obama impeached for being Kenyan.

The Entertainment Sports Network probably got tired of long-winded comment fights right after college football season, so on July 17 its website stopped hosting its own comments and began using Facebook’s scripts and plug-ins instead.  This may have been an attempt to streamline online operations (read: fire any IT guys hired to maintain comments), but there was another effect which may or may not have been intentional: You have to have a name on your Facebook account, therefore from now on you will have to give your identity when you leave a comment on an ESPN.com article.  It’s genius because whenever somebody says something like, “Wait a second, how do we know that throwing a banana at a black guy is racist?  We don’t!  So stop making things racist when they’re not!!” we know the name of that bigoted imbecile.

And I wish I got the name of that bigoted imbecile; I may have been paraphrasing, but I’m serious, someone said something like that.  But you can’t see those comments anymore.  It looks like ESPN.com erases the comments so many days after an article is published online.  That might be a good thing because it prevents the board to devolve into a war of insults.  On the other hand, making sure people know their posts will stay up forever may make them think twice about what they are going to say.

These flare-ups between athletes and fans have entered a different phase.  New ways to communicate have removed the middleman and allowed athletes, fans and the relationship between the two to be more honest and confrontational.  And this allows us wallflowers to sit back, observe the meltdown and shake our heads at humanity.  What will await us this weekend?

Posted by WilliamSou at 10:50 AM

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