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The Dark Side of Social Media

by Mike Conklin

E-mail: mikeconklin@packerpedia.com
June 13, 2012

 

Something came to mind recently in the wake of the debacle with the Cleat Lady and the boy at Donald Driver's charity softball game.

It really looked bad, the way she tussled with the kid. And boy, did she pay for it. It went viral on the internet, then was picked up on TV news broadcasts across the country and even around the world. The woman in question was vilified, and became the Packers version of Steve Bartman. She was found and attacked on Facebook. A friend disowned her on Twitter. She was even compared to Osama Bin Laden.

As ugly as it was, watching a grown woman wrestle the shoe away from a boy, the reaction seemed over the top. First of all, it was a spur of the moment reactionary thing. It seemed pretty clear that the shoe was going directly toward her, and the boy lunged in front of her to intercept it. Should she have let it go? Sure. But some of us can process information more quickly than others. I'm sure excitement was high as Driver started peeling off various articles and tossing them into the crowd. But for all we knew, there could have been even more to the story. On a recent broadcast of Green & Gold Today (ESPN Wisconsin) this question was asked: What if her own child was at home sick with cancer and he was a huge Donald Driver fan? What if she wanted the shoe for him?

Even though this wasn't the case, would it have even mattered? The simple fact is that people are human, and until we've walked a mile in someone else's shoes we should be careful to cast judgements. After all, we have all failed at something and wished later we had done things differently. To Driver's credit, he tweeted something to that effect after it was apparent that the Cleat Lady had become Public Enemy #1.

All that got me to thinking about the way fans treated the Cleat Lady, and how sometimes it isn't all that different than how some fans treat players in today's world of social media.

Undoubtedly there has never been a better time to be a fan. There are more reporters than ever that offer unparalleled coverage, and information can be disseminated quickly to anyone that wants it. Thanks to Twitter, fans can ask questions directly to beat reporters and get immediate answers. Fans can also "speak" directly to players.

As we all know, "fan" is short for "fanatic." A fanatic is passionate by nature. When a team does well, that passion is euphoria. When a team does poorly, the passion is frustration, and for some fans even anger. Fanatical anger can be a scary thing, and unfortunately in today's world it is too often directed at a player in the form of a tweet.

It's hard to imagine how many bitterly vitriolic tweets some players must receive from people who profess to be their supporters. I would guess it's not all that different than what the Cleat Lady experienced. Sometimes we get a little glimpse, when a player occassionally retweets one here or there. It's shocking what people will say anonymously, when they don't have to actually look a person square in the eye.

Before there was the Cleat Lady, there was Jermichael Finley. After the Packers lost to the Giants in January, Finley was viciously attacked on Twitter for dropping a couple passes. And they didn't stop with him...they even went after his wife. Courtney Finley was fed up to the point that she tweeted:

And if that weren't enough, Mike Freeman of CBS Sports reported that somebody on Twitter even blamed Joe Philbin for the loss. Yes, the guy who actually came back to work to try to help the team just a few days after his son was found dead after a manhunt. Classy.

Studies show that it takes at least five positive comments to equal one negative comment. And that's just an estimate...some people are affected more than others. From personal experience I know that I don't really have a lot of childhood memories, yet years later I can somehow remember the most random, isolated hurtful things that people have said to me.

These players are people too. Yes, they make a ton of money. Yes, they signed up for their line of work, knowing they would have a high profile. And those that choose to sign up for Twitter do so willingly. (Although I'd venture to guess that most of them have absolutely no idea what they're getting into.) None of that changes the fact that they still have human emotions, and surely must be affected on some level by those hurtful comments. How can it possibly help them?

As much as I love Twitter, if I were a player I'm not sure I would do it. And I'm sure a lot of players feel the same way. That's sad, because it's a great medium and an unrivaled way for fans to connect to their favorite players. But knowing how that certain segment of fans are when their team doesn't win, players must get some pretty awful tweets sometimes.

After all, some of the most criticized Packers players are on Twitter. We never hear about it, but I shudder to think what Jarrett Bush has found in his mentions column. Or A.J Hawk. Or Mike Neal.

This surely must affect how players view fans. Add on to that the fact that day after day, they walk by a throng of fans lined up by the fence at Lambeau begging for autographs. It would be pretty easy to develop a calloused attitude toward fans. Even when they are cheering, there must be an occasional distrustful thought by the player. As Finley experienced:

To me, this all makes it even more impressive that a guy like Finley is so positive all the time on Twitter. He is almost always upbeat and cheerful. Even back in January after he was being absolutely crucified on Twitter, he remained above the fray:

Considering the way he always speaks his mind, I would think it may have been a challenge not to just tell everybody off. But he kept his cool, and even ended up signing a new contract to stay in Green Bay.

And of course, the unfortunate thing about all this is that the vast majority of fans...especially Packer fans...are respectful. When compared to the rest of fans across the NFL, we are always regarded as among the best. But all it takes are a few rotten apples to spoil the barrel.

So the next time that DB gives up a long touchdown, or that RB fumbles the ball on the 1 yard line, we need to pause and remember that we have two ears and two eyes and only one mouth. We need to use them in the appropriate ratio.

And if we really feel the urge to tweet, maybe we should just take a page from the "Good Job, Good Effort" kid's playbook.