Immediately after No. 2 seeded Ohio State lost to No. 15 seed Oral Roberts in the first round of the NCAA tournament, sophomore forward E.J. Liddell began receiving online harassment - with some even going as far as to make death threats. Though Liddell lead Ohio State with 23 points, 14 rebounds and five assists, he also missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw with just 37 seconds left in regulation. The miss gave Oral Roberts an opportunity to not only tie the game in regulation, but to eventually pull off the upset win in overtime.
While it’s become normal in this day and age for folks to talk trash on social media, harassing and threatening athletes for their performances should never be considered normal or acceptable. The threats against Liddell were so strong that local police departments reportedly dispatched extra patrol cars in the area around his residence.
Following No. 1 seed Michigan’s upset loss to No. 11 seed UCLA on Tuesday night, the ugliness of social media turned its attention to the Wolverines and, in particular, sophomore guard Franz Wagner. In one of his toughest outings of the entire season, Wagner struggled throughout the night against UCLA - finishing the evening shooting 1-10 from the floor with just four points. Wagner missed two late game three-pointers that would have given Michigan the lead, including an airball with 12 seconds left and what would have been the game-winner with just 0.5 seconds left.
To be clear, Michigan’s struggles on Tuesday night didn’t begin and end with Franz Wagner. Not even close. In fact, only one Wolverine would score in double-figures on the night - Big Ten Freshman of the Year Hunter Dickinson. Though Dickinson was able to find double-figures, he still missed crucial shots down the stretch that could have helped change the outcome. Along with Wagner, senior guards Eli Brooks and Mike Smith went a combined 5-25 shooting from the floor - their worst collective outing of the entire season. Make no mistake, Michigan’s loss against UCLA on Tuesday night was a total team effort.
Reality aside, it didn’t stop some folks on social media from singling out Wagner in the ugliest way imaginable. “Go back to Germany and play in the trash leagues where you belong,” read one comment by @cadyntrenum_. The comments toward Wagner ranged from racial attacks to deep personal attacks about who he is as a person, going well beyond the usual trash talking that can often occur in sports.
Unfortunately, this has become part of the new norm with athletes, fans and social media.
While there’s very little that can be done about online harassment in the short-term, this is certainly an issue that needs to be addressed in a serious manner moving forward. In general, people have become far too comfortable saying things behind the keyboard that they wouldn’t say if standing face to face with the subject of their attacks. The same can also be said for the way some fans choose to interact with players and coaches within the friendly confines of an arena or stadium.
Put simply, we have to do better than this.