by Nate Olson
I nearly jumped in my car and drove down to the station to high-five Hayden Balgavy Tuesday night. The young THV sports anchor delivered a powerful commentary reminding passionate Arkansas sports fans to mind their manners on social media Wednesday – the first day of the college football signing period.
A trend in sports fandom in general, not only in Arkansas, is to tweet or message recruits and insult them if they don’t attend the “correct school.” Some of these “keyboard cowboys” go as far as to threaten players and coaches. Alabama kicker Joseph Bulovas was threatened and ferociously insulted when he missed a key field goal in a loss to rival Alabama in November.
My first recollection of targeting recruits by Arkansas fans –keep in mind I didn’t get to the state until 1998 – was in 2003 when Warren All-American receiver Bret Smith signed with the University of Tennessee. At that time, it wasn’t social media but message boards. I worked at the Pine Bluff Commercial, and one of our reporters covered the Smith beat and got to know him well. He reported that the night before signing day Smith was so shaken by the pressure of leaving the state, he was physically ill.
Hayden points out that many of these fans are parents or grandparents. I wrote a column where I implored those who were parents to think about if Smith was their son. How would that make you feel? 1) You’d want him to go where he wants. 2) You’d be mad as hell if some strange grown man was insulting his choice. I think that made some fanatics pause, which was precisely Hayden’s point with this commentary.
Hayden also made the point that media are also targets of these online critics. In 20 years of journalism, I’ve been cussed on the phone, sent anonymous emails and letters. What hasn’t happened is someone spewing these insults to my face. Well, it did happen once. In 2000, I was the sports editor of the Benton County Daily Record in Bentonville. I was irked that Rogers High School fired its boys’ basketball coach. He was a great guy, and let’s just say the talent pool wasn’t very deep. Not his fault. I pointed that out in a column, and one of the mothers was ready to fight me at a baseball game in Fayetteville after a rare Saturday morning game.
As parents circled around me, I told her I had to get quotes from the Rogers baseball coach, and I’d see her at my office where we could continue this conversation if she could keep it civil. Needless to say, she never showed up. But, that’s it. There’s been a whole lot more butt chewings on the phone and personal barbs on twitter than someone actually having the courage to confront me one-on-one.
I grew up in the 1980s and my parents are good, sensible people. I was raised to be respectful and courteous. I was taught the useful skill of keeping some things to yourself. You don’t have to blurt out everything you think. It may be the truth, but it’s not appropriate.
That’s what is lost on our society today and what the wise youngster Hayden pointed out. This is a societal problem, and it needs to stop. Great job by this rising star. Your high-five is coming soon.
Check out Balgavy’s comments here.