The men’s NCAA basketball tournament returned with a bang after a one-year hiatus, and emotion around the competition is high. On the court, most of the games display impassioned—albeit often sloppy—basketball that ended championship dreams for a few highly-ranked schools on the first weekend of play.
Off the court, the excitement from fans matches the intensity shown by the players.
Nothing elicits an extreme fan reaction like a March Madness upset. When you combine the emotions of anger and disappointment with a veil of anonymity created by social media, you see just how ugly some basketball fans can get.
Fan reactions to the upset of the 2-seed Ohio State Buckeyes are the perfect example of how ugly social media can get.
Fans expected the 2020-2021 Ohio State Buckeyes to make a deep run before the tournament. According to a Tom Carpenter ESPN article, the Buckeyes were the sixth-most selected tournament winner on ESPN’s Tournament Challenge as 3.5 percent of brackets selected Ohio State as their eventual champion.
Expectations were through the roof for this Ohio State team, so it was a big letdown for Buckeye believers when they fell to 15-seed Oral Roberts in the round of 64.
After the game, fans took to Twitter and Instagram to voice their frustrations.
Buckeyes forward E.J. Liddell used his personal experience to shine a light on the hateful messages he received after the loss. The messages Liddell shared were a showcase of how the negative side of social media intertwines with sports.
Many of the comments I had seen online were from accounts with hardly recognizable profile pictures or names. People with their own free time and without the threat of accountability for their words project themselves directly to an athlete in the public eye thanks to social media.
This level of access to athletes has not been around long, so most of the negative effects on players we witness firsthand through statements like those of E.J. Liddell.
The player reactions to the negative fan talk inspired me to write this because in sports—and especially college sports—fans tend to neglect that PEOPLE play sports. It is unfair for fans to add extra pressure to student-athlete lives with disrespectful and hateful rhetoric. Student-athletes are playing under heightened stressors and restrictions due to the pandemic. Inflammatory responses by upset fans take on a higher level of unacceptability due to the circumstances.
Fair criticism of play on the floor is always fair game, but attacking players and coaches just because you’re upset and know you won’t have consequences for your actions has no place in sports. It is up to sensible fans to remind the people close to us that channeling your anger toward someone you don’t know personally for anything, especially a sporting event, is an immature act that only takes away from the enjoyment of the game.