Before diving into this one, let me make a few things clear:
First, I don’t understand people who use Twitter to curse left and right. I was raised in such a way that I wouldn’t want the whole world to see me tossing F-bombs around left and right.
Second, I don’t get fans who feel that part of the “fun” of sports involves insulting other people. Likewise, I’ve never understood why some fans are jerks to visiting fans. I’ve never understood why fans attack rival fans in parking lots. As a Patriots fans, I was once angered to see fellow New England fans tossing snow (and ice) balls at Jets fans during a snow game I attended in Foxboro. I’m unable to comprehend how that attitude is created, where it comes from. What, some people can’t watch a game without trying to hurt someone else — typically whom they don’t know — either with words or fists (or hurled objects)? What does that say about those folks’ upbringing?
Third, I sure as hell don’t understand fans who take to social media to send nasty comments and messages to athletes or coaches. If given the chance to spew such garbage in a face-to-face manner, the cowards on Twitter would more likely wet their pants than verbally abuse a coach or player.
And all that brings us to a recent Twitter exchange between a Tennessee fan and a Vanderbilt assistant football coach. The Vol fan — someone named Julian Bucio — tweeted to Commodore O-line coach Herb Hand the following (edited) message:
“@CoachHand dude I think your wife is f****** someone while you coach your pathetic football team #Slut”
Now that’s class. That’s someone I’d want to hire to work for my business. That’s someone I’d want dating my sister, daughter or friend.
Wisely, Hand took the matter to the next level and guaranteed that the over-the-top tweet from a UT fan was seen by people far and wide. Hand retweeted the message to Volunteers head coach Butch Jones. Brilliant. And he included this message:
“Here is what one of your fans sent me on Twitter today about Deb. Just thought you’d like to know. If any of our fans were to say something like this about Barb, please let me know so I can personally whip their ass.”
Boom. Outta the park.
Hand has taken one rube’s tweet, turned it around, and made it a positive recruiting tool for Vanderbilt. Now, will anyone be swayed to sign with VU over UT — or vice versa — because of a few tweets? One would hope not (though coaches sure as heck try to use Twitter to recruit, don’t they). But every program has an image. Small things help to build up or tear down that image. And for one day at least, UT’s image has been slightly tarnished by one of its own fans.
Who comes across with more class? Hand or the fan? Naturally, then, it looks like the Vol fanbase is made up of juvenile punks while VU’s coaching staff features men willing to try and hush such nonsense in his own ranks. We live in a world where everything is oversimplified — e.g.: Twitter = 140 characters — so if Harvey Updyke poisons a tree, Alabama fans are all viewed as being nuts. If a Tennessee fan says nasty things about a coach’s wife, all Tennessee fans will be viewed as classless.
Jones hasn’t yet responded to Hand’s tweet, but Bucio responded by mocking the coach for responding to him. (Personally, this is a favorite cowardly out of mine. Someone writes something insulting to me, I insult them back, and then I’m called thin-skinned for not taking a goofball’s insult like I should. So the obnoxious person holds the upper hand while the public figure has his hands tied? I think not.)
Bucio also claimed via Twitter that Vandy fans have tweeted him “physical threats,” as if anyone cares. Dumb fans tweet dumb things to other dumb fans all the time. A few dumb fans also tweet ugly, dumb things to coaches and players. But rarely is a coach wise enough — or calm enough — to simply expose the initial tweeter as a no-class buffoon as Hand did by re-tweeting Bucio’s message straight to Tennessee’s head coach.
Of course, Hand also responded directly to Bucio with the following message:
“You are welcome to come to my office so we can discuss this face to face…I fully welcome the opportunity. Feel free to come by anytime so we can talk about this in person like men.”
Yeah, here’s guessing that won’t happen.
The importance of fan tweets has certainly come up for debate in recent years. Just last week, when super hoops recruit Andrew Wiggins announced that he would sign with Kansas, fans from Kentucky, Florida State and North Carolina lit him up with ill wishes and insults. Those vitriolic tweets made national news. In response, Jerry Tipton of The Lexington Herald-Leader opined that the media is partly to blame for bringing attention to the tweets of the masses in the first place.
The trouble is, millions of people now use Twitter socially and professionally. Coaches use it as a recruiting tool (as Hand did in this case). Players and recruits get involved in recruiting with their own Twitter accounts, as well. So should the media pay attention to some tweets, no tweets, or all tweets?
The bigger lesson here seems to be one for sports fans. When you put something online in 140 characters or less, you are representing your favorite team or school. That school may not want to have anything to do with you, but once you post a message from your account featuring a Tennessee or Vanderbilt or Kentucky or Alabama backdrop, it’s now out there to be used and repurposed by anyone who wishes to do so.
Vanderbilt’s Hand wished to do so. And thanks to the crass comments of a lone Tennessee fan, the Volunteer fanbase is wearing a bit of egg on its face today in online circles. It’s incredibly unfair to the thousands of Vol fans who would never dream of posting something so unseemly, but that’s life in the current age.
One dumb fan can hurt the reputation — perhaps slightly, perhaps shortly — of an entire fanbase made up of intelligent, well-meaning people. And the majority of fanbases are just that.
Hand made this story a big deal when he retweeted Bucio’s high-school-level insult to Jones. The next fan toying with the idea of sending a rude insult to another school’s coach or player should remember that before clicking the “tweet” button.
Do you really think your school wants its representatives slinging abuse toward other schools’ coaches and athletes?