Back in the good old days - and I mean the 1980's - if you wanted to send a message to your favorite pro athlete, it took some time. You had to write a letter, put a stamp on it, mail it, and about five days later it would arrive at the offices of the team he played for. Then maybe, just maybe, within another week or two it would actually get to the player. And usually, between the time that you were motivated to fire off a letter and your actually getting it ready to mail, you were no longer really upset by whatever motivated you to write in the first place. You had some cool-down time. And you just tore up the letter and went on with your day.
Typically, it was kids who actually mailed fan letters to their sports heroes. If they were very lucky, they would check the mailbox everyday for a month or two and one happy day, find either a form letter or a picture with a machine printed signature on it. And danced all the way into the house to show dad what they got.
In the '90's, we all got computers and the Internet. We could look up players on websites and get their email addresses. We could fire off nasty emails when they made us made, either by bad game play or by something that they reportedly said. Either way, our actions were immediate - we angrily banged the keys on the computer and fired off a wickedly rude email. And then we were done. On the other end, who knew if the player ever even read the emails. My guess was that they had assistants who would "filter" the emails and shield them from the rough stuff sent by crazy fanatics.
Then we come to today. We have FaceBook and Twitter. We have the Blogosphere. We have fans expressing opinions on talk radio. Whoever you are, if you have an opinion on a team or an athlete, there are MANY venues for you to use to get your message out. And there are no filters. And once you say something, it's out there for anyone to see. And you can't take it back.
To make matters worse, our favorite athletes are also out there, trying to be more accessible than ever. They are FaceBook-ing and Tweeting every day, and responding to fans like never before. Fans are now able to get up close and personnal with athletes, and, in my opinion, TOO personnal. No one on either side of the fence THINKS before the TWEET. They just fire off the first thing that pops into their heads. That is both the "Beauty" and the "Beast" of social media like FaceBook and Twitter.
Sports is a Passion for fans but has become a Business for the athletes. As fans, we often forget this fact. We expect them to have the same love and devotion for our team and our city that we do and that is just not the case. We lash out without thinking because we FEEL so much for out team. We don't take the time to consider that the person on the receiving end of our sharp tongue/key strokes is, indeed, a PERSON. We would never say these things to one of our friends or family members, yet while we feel that we "own" our team's athletes, we don't treat them very well.
Now, I am not advocating censorship or even filtering. I'm just asking people to think a bit about what they are putting out there. A simple "lol" at the end of a comment let's everyone know that you are being sarcastic or kidding or not intending to hurt someone's feelings. And if you really are angry, and if you really would say the same things to a person who was standing in front of you, then please don't be surprised when athletes react. They are people too and have the same feelings that you do. And are equally guilty of lashing out when they feel attacked. It's all part of the new world we live in.
So the next time you want to criticize an athlete, by all means, go ahead. But don't expect them just to take it. And don't be surprised if they strike back. I understand that they make obscene amounts of money to play a game and be in the public eye. For that compensation, they lose their privacy and there are expectations placed on them by the "people paying their salaries." A thick-skin is required as part of the deal when they sign on the dotted line. I get all of that.
But I am also incredibly thankful that every mistake I make isn't viewed by millions of people. And that those people don't have permission to rip me to shreads for it wherever the can. #JustSayin