Sports fans add a lot to the game day experience. But the popularity of social media has created a dirtier side to fandom. Hidden behind words on a screen, so-called fans have used Twitter, Facebook, online comments sections and message boards to express opinions ranging from distasteful to hurtful.
Following the LSU Tigers' 14-6 loss to the Florida Gators Oct. 6, fans took to the airwaves declaring the end of the Tigers football program, name-calling players and coaches and talking about the loss as if the apocalypse had taken place. Tigers receiver Jarvis Landry was one of the targets on Twitter, and after reading the conversations he reached a boiling point. "If you have nothing positive to say don't mention me," he tweeted. "It's us out there at practice every day etc. What gives you the right to have a voice?"
The next day, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel was hit hard and suffered a concussion. A majority of the home fans — the home fans! — cheered while Cassel remained on his back, diagnosis unknown, for several minutes.
Another instance of fandom gone wrong followed an Oct. 15 report on ProFootballTalk.com that former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, now with the Cleveland Browns, is battling a neck injury that could threaten his career.
Fujita was a fan favorite during his four years in New Orleans and helped the city win its first Super Bowl championship. I covered him during his time with the Saints and he was always professional, during both the best and worst of times. When I got to the end of the story and saw comments football fans had posted, I was disgusted.
"Instant karma baby. Hate brings bad things," one commenter posted. "I'd like to say I'm sorry to hear that ... but ... I'd be lying," another read. "Bounty hit?" A respondent on one message board went so far as to say he hopes Fujita's injury means he will have trouble picking up his children to hold them.
I guess these so-called fans can't read, because in the NFL's latest reaffirmations of the bounty penalties, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Fujita wasn't involved in the bounty program but was punished for not speaking out against it.
Fujita is the father of three young girls and is involved in a range of charities as well as politics, especially issues involving equal rights for everyone, most famously when it comes to same-sex marriage. He's involved with Covenant House New Orleans, America's Wetland, the Gulf Restoration Network, Angels' Place, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Catholic Charities Adoption, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, the Pat Tillman Foundation, The Littlest Heroes and Team Gleason. So why all the vitriol?
I have no problem with people criticizing a team's or a player's performance on the field, and I don't think players do either. But fans and the media also should remember that those players are human beings who have spouses, children, parents, friends and loved ones. Venomous and hateful comments do hurt.
Everyone who follows the NFL needs to remember that football is a sport and each contest is just a game, not a life or death match. The next time you make comments on social media, remember that asking that a player be traded, benched or cut is a fair request, but wishing them ill, especially physical harm — that's not being a fan. That's being heartless.