Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Death Threats Against University of Michigan Punter

I read recently about the demise of Twitter. The main idea of the article was that Twitter has become a haven of hate. Attacks are made on people simply because they don’t share the same opinion or because the attacker is simply an indecent human being. This past Saturday afternoon, I witnessed one of the best football games I’ve ever watched. My favorite team (the University of Michigan) looked to have a victory sewn up against our cross-town rival (Michigan State University) when a miracle occurred in the last ten seconds, handing U of M a heartbreaking defeat. Michigan’s punter dropped the snap, and in a panic to attempt to get a kick off, deposited the ball into the hands of an MSU player, who ran it in for a touchdown as the clock expired. Since then, the Twitter idiots and commenters on other forums have gone so far as to wish death upon the punter. What has our world come to?

I used to coach basketball, and one of the most important things I taught my players—preaching the concept to the extreme—was that we don’t make excuses. Over the years of coaching well over 500 games, there have been many times that the timekeeper or referee made an error at the end of the game. There were other times that one of my players made an error that “cost us the game.” I don’t deny the anger…the frustration…the desire to blame. But blaming the result of a game on one play or one call or one mistake is just plain stupid. Let me explain by giving one example from my coaching history.

I was coaching a team that was winless the year before. It was the first game of the year, and it was against one of the best teams in the conference. At the end of the game, with just two seconds remaining, we had a one-point lead and one of my players was fouled and was to shoot two free throws. I called a time out, and I told the four non-shooting players to stand at half court, so there was no way they could foul. I told my shooter (Al) that once he made the free throws (positive thinking), to back off. They’d have to make a miracle shot just to tie. But I also reminded him that if he happened to miss, they’d have to throw in a full-court shot to win it. The worst thing he could do would be to foul and give them free throws. So what did he do? He missed both free throws, and after the second miss, he fouled the other team’s best player, who made both of his free throws. We lost the game. It was Al’s fault, right? He missed shots that could have sealed the victory. He made a dumb foul. I should blame Al, right? Wrong.

Let me say first of all that we lost by just one point. We did not shoot 100% that game. We didn’t get every rebound. We committed fouls to put our opponents into the bonus before that fateful final foul. We blew defensive assignments during the game. We made turnovers. We missed free throws. At one point, we had a lead larger than one. If we had played better, made more shots, made less mistakes, had given up fewer points, Al’s free throws and foul wouldn’t have mattered. And while I’m mentioning Al, he had a really good game that day. He scored an unexpected nine points and had several steals and forced several other turnovers. We wouldn’t have been in a position to win without him. It wasn’t his fault we lost.

And it wasn’t Blake O’Neill’s fault Michigan lost. MSU had more total yards by a lot. They had a greater time of possession, had more first downs, got called for less penalties, made no turnovers, had a one-play 75-yard score on the play after it seemed Michigan put the game out of reach. Michigan’s running game was stopped. Who blew the defensive assignment on the 75-yard pass? Why did MSU’s quarterback pass for over 300 yards? Why was Michigan’s special teams unit preparing to tackle the punt returner when no returner was back? Why wasn’t the whole team defending MSU’s attempt to block the punt? Wasn’t the snap low? And by the way, wasn’t it Blake O’Neill who had an 80-yard punt? Wasn’t it O’Neill whose punts pinned the Spartans inside the 10-yard line three or four different times during the game? Isn’t O’Neill one of the best punters in the country? Blaming him and threatening him is as absurd as accepting that those giving out threats could actually play better than O’Neill themselves.

Several years ago, a Cubs fan by the name of Steve Bartman did what about 98% of all fans at a baseball game would do. He reached to catch a foul ball (out of the field of play). Video replays even show other fans attempting to do the same thing because, well, that’s what fans do at baseball games. I sure do, and I even caught one once. It made my day. Yet, other Cubs fans seem intent to blame him for the Cubs not winning the World Series. Really? Was that the only play of the game? (If caught, it would have actually only been the second out of the 8th inning). Didn’t the pitcher still have another opportunity to get the batter out who hit the foul ball? (He walked him). How did the other team score eight runs in the inning without other runners? (Shortstop Alex Gonzalez made an error on a sure inning-ending double-play ground ball before other hits and walks began to pile up). Didn’t the Cubs make 27 outs that game? Didn’t they have a chance to win game seven the next day? Are Cubs fans entitled to determine that the Cubs would have won the World Series had Steve Bartman not “interfered” with one batted ball in a playoff game prior to the World Series? Yet Bartman had death threats. One moment in time when he did what anyone would do ruined his life because of idiot “fans.” And by the way “fans,” isn’t it a game? I realize fan is short for fanatic, but seriously, did Steve Bartman’s instinctive action matter so much that he should fear for his life?

It’s a game, people. We watch the game for entertainment…diversion…a reason to get together with friends. Yes, we take pride in our teams. Yes, we get emotional, leading to anger and disappointment, at times. But in the course of a game, we also feel joy. We literally get nervous. We laugh and celebrate with our friends. We might even yell or throw things. But it’s a game. It’s a game in which Michigan fans felt hope and excitement. We celebrated Blake O’Neill’s prior punts. We got angry at instant replay calls that somehow were still inaccurately called, one of which was for a touchdown our team should have never been awarded. We’ve been watching our team play better this year than we expected, and we’re happy for it. But to go on Twitter and wish the death of a kid who dropped a snap is way overboard. To threaten his life should be punishable by law, and the idiots who could never do what Blake O’Neill is capable of doing should be fined or thrown in jail. He’s a kid playing a sport for our entertainment.

And by the way, you parents out there who berate your own children for not playing up to your absurd expectations…you need to back off. Your view of your own past athletic prowess is probably skewed, and your desire to live vicariously through your child’s feats should probably take a backseat to your love and devotion for your son or daughter. It’s a sport—a recreation. It’s a way for your son and daughter to make good friends, have good experiences, learn how to work hard, learn how to work together, learn how to deal with successes and failures, and learn who they are and what they’re made of. Sports and competition mirror real life in many ways, but one way they don’t mirror life is that they aren’t life and death. The idiots who want Blake O’Neill or Steve Bartman to suffer for their miniscule part in the loss of one game in one season need to back off and put their own life in the proper perspective. And lawmakers ought to be figuring out a way to punish people who threaten the lives of others in a public forum. Maybe that would stop idiots from hurting innocent people.