“It is just a game” is something most athletes can remember someone saying at some point in their sports career when tempers have flared. In the modern world we live in, professional athletes can find themselves under attack with a simple tweet or status update when tempers flare or mistakes are made. Which begs the question, have we forgotten that this is all a game?
Earlier this week Los Angeles Clippers’ star Chris Paul and his wife received a death threat on twitter that the user wanted to kill his wife and then frame him for it. This doesn’t exactly strike me as a fan showing their heartwarming appreciation for their favorite player if you ask me.
Athletes across the board are scrutinized for things such as their performance during a game all the way to the things they do outside of the game itself. This doesn’t only affect professional athletes but college athletes as well that find themselves under the microscope of diehard fans. University of Michigan’s former kicker Blake O’Neill botched a punt against arch rival Michigan State in 2015 which led to Michigan State to score and ultimately win the game. Mild comments such as, “A BRICK COULD HAVE DONE BETTER THAN YOU” all the way to death threats such as “I hope you know half of Michigan wants to kill you” from users on Twitter are just a sample of the kind words O’Neill received after the contest.
I get that these people are athletes and that they are paid to perform at the utmost level of competition, but like what was mentioned at the beginning of this sentence – these are people. These are people like you and I who have developed incredible abilities to play a sport they love. We watch them day-in and day-out perform at peak performance only to tear them apart the moment they make a miniscule mistake.
This isn’t a new phenomenon in the sports world by any means, even Hank Aaron received death threats when he neared Babe Ruth’s record of 714 homeruns. Letters were sent to him with explicit detail of what would be done to him if he came any closer to the record. The threats even went on to affect his family with harassing phone calls and a plot to kidnap his daughter from college according to thesportster.com.
With access to the internet and the ability to have a post go viral in a matter of minutes and sometimes seconds, it has changed the way fans interact with their favorite players and in these cases, their most hated ones. Players are now under a microscope that they are being picked apart under every second of every game and in some cases every day.
This is no longer, “just a game” for most athletes. It has become a battle for some and a nightmare for other’s to be the target of the backlash they receive.
I’m as guilty as the next for being one to pick apart an athlete based on their on and off the court/field performances but having become exposed to the world of scrutiny many athletes live in has made me realize that this really is just a game.
As a former high school athlete that has been told “it’s just a game” countless times when tempers flared, I never felt like I would be one to admit that this truly is just a game even though if felt like it was my life.
At the end of the day, these are people that are human just like you and I, and we should treat them as such. We, as fans, expect them to perform at the highest level humanly possible and while this is okay to expect, we should not have the attitude to attack players on a personal level for the performances they have made for our entertainment.