Ryan Black commentary: Recent incidents with athletes reveal dark side of sports fandom

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 14, 2014 

Alabama Signing Day Football

Chenavis Evans, left, and Allan Evans, right, watch as their son Rashaan Evans dons an Alabama hat as the Auburn High School football player announces that he will attend Alabama during a national signing day ceremony on Wednesday.

BUTCH DILL — AP

AUBURN, Ala. — The response was fast.

And not surprisingly, it was mostly furious.

The second after Auburn High School’s Rashaan Evans put on an Alabama hat on national signing day and announced he would play for the Crimson Tide, the outcry from (some) Tiger backers commenced. If one believes Evans and his family, that criticism hasn’t let up. From Auburn fans encouraging locals to avoid the Evans’ family business to not being served at restaurants around town, the highly-touted linebacker’s accusations have run the gamut.

How much is true and how much is melodramatics isn’t easily discernible.

What’s indisputable is that those who vilified Evans for his decision need to grow up.

Quickly.

He chose Alabama because he felt it was the best fit for him both athletically and academically. Who are others to question this? Do people have so much free time on their hands that they have to bash a high school kid for his college decision? If so, take stock of your priorities and rearrange accordingly.

Of course, not all Auburn supporters picked up their virtual pitchforks to disparage Evans. As always, it’s those on the fringe who make the rest of a fan base look bad. Unfortunately, every team has them. If a high-profile recruit commits to a rival school — or God forbid, flips from your favorite school to another — condemnation is sure to follow from those who are far too invested in what a soon-to-be college freshman elects to do.

Earlier this week, AuburnSports.com talked to some of the Tigers’ 2014 signees, who detailed how they handled the attacks from those who took umbrage. These attacks ranged from the relatively innocent (calling them “overrated” or saying how they would “never win a ring” with the Tigers) to the repulsive (Alabama fans taunting Deshaun Davis after the linebacker tore his ACL prior to his senior season).

Therein lies the problem: the double-edged sword known as “social media.”

The accessibility of athletes in this day and age — thanks to Twitter, Instagram and the like — means those who disagree with a prospect’s decision can go directly to the source. Just find an athlete’s account and fire away. Worse, technology gives these zealots the distance they need to say anything they want without worrying about the consequences. It’s a forum without boundaries, an anarchic free-for-all, if you will. Most of the radicals who spew venom online would never repeat the same thing to an athlete face-to-face.

That is, unless you’re Jeff Orr.

You know, the Texas Tech basketball fanatic who incited Marcus Smart to shove him last Saturday. What exactly Orr said to set Smart off hasn’t been determined. Orr said he simply called the Oklahoma State guard a “piece of crap," while Smart said the fan uttered a racial slur. There’s no question that Smart was in the wrong.

No matter what is said, a player should never lay his hands on a spectator. Period.

But Orr must shoulder some of the blame as well — and already has. He owned up to his regrettable actions Sunday and said he wouldn’t attend any more Texas Tech games this season to appease those who have been embarrassed “by the attention this incident has created.”

Don’t make the admission out to be more than it is, though. It was a necessary gesture. Yes, Smart reacted in the worst way possible. On that same token, however, downplaying Orr’s buffoonery would be every bit as harmful.

For you see, Orr embodies the worst of what a ticket-paying fan can become.

Some equate plunking down money to attend a sporting event to diplomatic immunity. If they feel like jeering an opposing player for the duration — with colorful words peppered throughout — who’s to stop them? Just because it happens doesn’t make it right. There are ways to get under an opponent’s skin without resorting to profane language and petty name-calling. Good-natured ribbing is fine, and it goes hand-in-hand with the “sportsmanship” and “respect your adversary” ethos most people were taught as children.

Does that mean people should cheer for their arch-nemesis? Of course not. But as there is everywhere else in life, a line needs to be drawn somewhere.

Sports allow people the opportunity to witness athletes at their best.

Too bad that often brings out the worst in the rest of us.

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