As soon as 2nd seed Ohio State lost to 15th seed Oral Roberts in the first round of the NCAA tournament, second-tier EJ Liddell began receiving online harassment – some even making death threats. Although Liddell led Ohio State with 23 points, 14 rebounds and five assists, he also missed the front end of the one-and-one free throws with only 37 seconds remaining in regulation. The failure gave Oral Roberts the opportunity to not only tie the game to the rules, but to finally pull off a disappointing win in overtime.
Although in this day and age it is normal for people to talk about trash on social media, harassing and threatening athletes because of their appearance should not be considered normal or acceptable. The threat against Liddell was so strong that the local police department reportedly dispatched additional patrol cars in the area around his residence.
After top seed Michigan lost heavily to 11th seed UCLA on Tuesday night, social media ugliness turned its attention to Wolverines and, in particular, second-tier keeper Franz Wagner. In one of his toughest matches of the season, Wagner struggled through the night against UCLA – finishing 1-10 off the floor with just four points of the night. Wagner missed two three-pointers in the final that would have given Michigan the lead, including an aerial ball with 12 seconds remaining and what would have been the winner of the match with just 0.5 seconds remaining.
To be clear, Michigan’s struggles on Tuesday night didn’t start and end with Franz Wagner. Not even close. In fact, only one Wolverine scored double digits that night – Hunter Dickinson’s Top Ten of New Year’s Students. Even though Dickinson was able to find the double digits, he still missed an important shot that could help turn the result. Along with Wagner, senior guards Eli Brooks and Mike Smith shot a combined 5-25 from the floor – their worst collective performance of all season. Make no mistake, Michigan’s defeat against UCLA on Tuesday night was a total team effort.
Despite the fact, that hasn’t stopped some people on social media from voting for Wagner in the ugliest way imaginable. “Go back to Germany and play in the trash league you came from,” read one comment by @cadyntrenum_. Comments on Wagner range from racial assaults to profound personal attacks about who he is as a person, going beyond the mundane trash talk that often takes place in sport.
Unfortunately, this has become part of the new norm with athletes, fans and social media.
While there is very little that can be done regarding online harassment in the short term, it is certainly an issue that needs to be taken seriously in the future. In general, people have become too comfortable saying things behind the keyboard that they wouldn’t say if they stood face to face with the subject of their attack. The same can be said for the way some fans choose to interact with players and coaches in friendly arenas or stadiums.
Simply put, we have to do better than this.