Social Media and Sports

My sports fandom has evolved over the years. I’m not sure if it is a sign of maturity or just finding a better balance in my life, but my emotions are not dictated by sporting events like they used to be. As a young man, my future wife told me that if I was going to let the outcome of a game dictate my mood and emotions for an entire day then she didn’t know if she wanted to be around me. This was after a regular season college football game years before the Internet gave us the ability to share our thoughts with other “fans” during and immediatly after the game. As a college kid at the time, I would have probably been all over place on social media venting my frustrations, calling for people to be fired or talking about how the players didn’t care, but thankfully that technology didn’t exist. However, now that it does, I cannot stand the platform it has provided for people like 18 year old me.

The game I am referencing that ‘ruined my day’ was a 3-3 tie for Illinois football to finish off the 1995 football season against a 4 win Wisconsin team. That Illinois football team started the season ranked, had the Butkus Award winner, and multiple guys that played in the NFL, including two of the first three overall NFL draft picks on its roster and didn’t qualify for a bowl game. Had they won they would have finished the regular season 6-5 and gone to a mid-tier bowl game that would have somehow changed the trajectory of my life. At least it seemed that way at the time. Regardless, if I had my say on social media, I would have called for the firing of the coach, Lou Tepper, or at the least his offensive staff. Somehow that would have made me feel better. Heck, maybe the school would have listened and he wouldn’t have been allowed to stay for another year which would result in the program winning a grand total of 5 games over the next three seasons. If there was social media in 1995, Lou Tepper probably would have heard from me.

In 2023, social media is everywhere! We have it at our fingertips, people can instantaneously share our thoughts, reactions, opinions, or breaking news in an instant. I am constantly searching through Twitter for updates and information on my favorite teams, especially during big games or when important things are taking place off the field. I can connect with people that share the same passion for my teams and read what they’re thinking. However, so can the players and coaches of those teams.

Let me focus on the coaches first. In today’s world, college coaches are paid extreme amounts of money to get results. Oftentimes, football and basketball coaches are the highest paid public employees in their respective states. Their job is to win games, which will enhance the profile of their school, thereby leading to increased revenue for everyone else. College coaches have a very important job on so many levels. Therefore, people seem to forget that they are human beings. They either don’t care, don’t think, or rationalize that it is okay to go after them on social media; and since social media is often a way for coaches to monitor and connect with players, almost every single one of them can be accessed. Yet, most of them are completely dehumanized by “the fans.”

In today’s world, we live in a ‘what have you done for me lately’ society. I am only speaking from the perspective of the teams that I follow, but I know how wild the waves can be over a short period of time for coaches. Less than a year ago I felt compelled to write this article about Matt Painter. He was being attacked after Purdue lost to Saint Peters in the NCAA tournament. Numerous fans were calling for his job. Ten months later he is being praised as a National Coach of the Year candidate for getting his team to the top of the rankings without having NBA level talent up and down his roster. The months ago, I wrote this article about Brad Underwood an Illinois basketball. He had just led them to a share of the Big Ten regular season title, after winning the conference tournament and earning a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament the year prior. However, this week on social media some fans were calling for him to be fired and saying the program was a complete mess.

Even worse is when ‘adults’ say misinformed things about kids. I think back to my 18-20 year old self and how irrational and spontaneous I was with my thoughts and emotions. Yet, for the most part the only person impacted was me and those immediately around me. College athletes are put on a platform for the world to see. Yes, they are now making money for the entertainment that they provide us and the hard work they put in, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are still just kids.

Illinois basketball recently had a kid walk away from the team. He was their highest rated recruit in a heralded freshman class. In an era where information is shared instantaneously, oftentimes without full context, check out the comments from followers of one of the numerous sources that broke the story. It is pretty sad and disappointing at how people immediately reacted to this situation. A few hours later the player released this statement. Based off that information, it seems as if an 18-19 year old kid is dealing with some pretty heavy emotional things outside of basketball. Yet, because we are passionate about our team, he was supposed to be one of our top players, and he is making money through NIL deals, it entitles some people to attack him personally. If they’re not going after him, they’re going after the coach as the one who has caused this situation.

The immediate impulse to overreacted to information, along with the access to the players, coaches, and other fans on social media has really impacted my view of sports. I watch sports as an escape from the daily stressors in life. Yes, sometimes they add more stress, but it is a welcome distraction and release of emotions. However, it is not what dictates my emotions. I am not calling for someone to be fired after a couple bad games, or calling a player a selfish quitter for admitting they need to walk away from a situation that is not right in the moment for them. I take in the information, form my own thoughts, and I keep them there. I don’t need to go after the player or the coach, or put them out there for them to find. The sky isn’t falling because one of my favorite sports teams isn’t living up to expectations! And, oh by the way, Illinois basketball beat #14 Wisconsin the next day after all of this came out. Their 3rd win of the season over a team ranked in the top 15 in the country. How awful it is for Illinois basketball fans to have this coach with these players!

And what if they lost again yesterday? So what! I would have been upset and disappointed, but I wouldn’t have added to the social media circus. I know these coaches pour hours and hours into winning and building their programs, often at the expense of quality time with their families. The players would have been disappointed, but like most young kids they would be entitled to have a fun and relaxing Saturday on campus. They’re just kids, and last time I checked, the other team’s coach and players are trying just as hard as they are not to lose.

I am writing this an appreciation for what players and coaches have to endure in the modern world of sports. It is sad when college basketball players have to address the media and admit to seeing and hearing a lof of the awful things being said about them and a teammate on social media after a game. It is sad when so called “die-hards” publicly say they are giving up or quitting on a team halfway through a season. A team that has some big time wins already this season.

I am not perfect when it comes to keeping my own thoughts and opinions to myself. I “justify” that Tweet because somehow professional sports and coaches are different in my mind than college guys. Looking back at my Tweet, it’s pretty pathetic. I ask, why did I put that out there for the world to see? Probably because I wanted other people to validate my thoughts and opinions. As if that would somehow make me feel better. Maybe if a number of other random Cardinal fans agreed with me, then we could somehow convince the front office to make the changes we felt necessary.

I am so grateful that I can have access to information on my favorite teams almost instantaneously. I am grateful for the people that cover these teams and share the information with us fans. I know it is their job to be critical when necessary, not mine. My job is to be a fan. I still get really excited when things go well, and I still get upset when they don’t. I still will look at my favorite teams’ schedules and try to arrange my social calendar around their games so I don’t have to ever miss watching. However, I am over the era of going after coaches and players on social media. No longer does a sporting event ruin my day.

Whether it is college or pro, athletes and coaches have jobs just like us. And just like us, some days on the job are better than others. However, when their work is done, so is mine as a fan. No amount of stewing or ranting is going to change anything. I am not the coach, and everyone should be thankful for that, along with all of the other people that overreact to every little thing. The need to fill content and engage followers is constant for people in the media. I can respect and understand that, but the platform to blast coaches and kids with partial information is disappointing. As fans, we see these coaches and kids for a couple of hours a week. But for players and coaches, you spend almost all of your time together in season. You do become like a family, for better or for worse. So it can be very hurtful when others outside the family takes shots from 1,000 yards acting as if they have all of the information.

1995 me would have had a field day with Lou Tepper, and I probably wouldn’t have cared that he was a great family man with deep Christian values. I wouldn’t have cared that I learned so much about African American culture because I played basketball in a program that modeled a lot of what we did around some of his philosophies on player and team development. Instead, I would have thoughtlessly torn him down and overreacted to a game being played by a bunch of kids. Sometimes, I really wish we could all go back to that world, because I know I would have never thought about saying anything to those coaches faces. And just like 99% of the people on Twitter who say terrible and over-reactionary things, neither would they. In a lot of ways, we were so much better when we didn’t have access to constant information and a platform to share our thoughts openly with the world. As the saying goes, ignorance is bliss. But in 2023 on social media related to sports, ignorance is abundant.

Published by mikegallo314

I have been in education for over 20 years, and it has been an amazing and rewarding career. I grew up on the east side of St. Louis, and I'm an avid sports fan. My three biggest addictions in life are the St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Blues, and University of Illinois athletics. I love listening to rock blues, and americana styled music. Throughout the years I have coached boys and girls basketball from the youth levels to the varsity level, and the last 10 years I have coached travel baseball. I have a passion for writing, and a long list of experiences and topics that I like to share my thoughts on. The best part about writing, are the conversations and thoughts that are shared as a result.

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