Friday, November 6, 2015

The Stable Majority v. Trolls

As published in The Calvert County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

When the undefeated Michigan Wolverines hosted the undefeated Michigan State Spartans a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t have an obvious dog in the fight. I’ve never even visited Michigan. Maybe I flew west via Detroit but I can’t say for sure. I’ve bought a lot of albums from Detroit natives Kid Rock and Eminem, though. I shamelessly sing Bob Seger songs in the car. The beers from Bells Brewery in Comstock, Michigan are delightful. Does that qualify me to choose sides in the state’s biggest rivalry? The Wolverine state’s collective response to my overture: “Meh”.   

Fair enough. True to my inescapable mid-Atlantic form, I watched the game with passing interest. Michigan’s coach, Jim Harbaugh, was fascinating, as always. Michigan State’s quarterback looked good. Maybe he could help a certain pro football team in D.C.? Other than that, the hope was simply for good competition.

It delivered. Michigan led 10-7 at halftime, 20-14 at the end of the third quarter and 23-21 with 10 seconds left. Then it happened: The cruelty of high-level, competitive athletics bit the Wolverines. Michigan’s punter mishandled a low snap and compounded the error by fumbling the ball. Michigan State scooped it up and scored a game-winning touchdown as time expired.

In East Lansing, the reaction was joyous chaos. In Ann Arbor, and among Michigan nation at large, a celebration was replaced with complete devastation in ten seconds flat. Some handled the disappointment better than others.

The punter’s name is Blake O’Neill. He’s a 22-year-old graduate transfer from Weber State. He hails originally from Melbourne, Australia and has played a lot more Australian rules football than American Football. But none of that matters. O’Neill is now synonymous with the fumbled punt, the gut-wrenching loss and dashed national title hopes. He’s in the goat fraternity with Bill Buckner and Scott Norwood, poor souls whose gaffs lead their Wiki pages. 

Despite O’Neill’s botching of a basic football play at the worst of all moments, the majority of disappointed Wolverine faithful kept perspective. Was it a gut punch? Did it hurt? Might it be a bother for years? Will the sight of anything green or reruns of the movie 300 cause irritation? Indeed. But what was lost? Ultimately “just” a football game. The sun will rise. Taxes will come due. Donald Trump will insult…everyone. O’Neill will punt again. Michigan football will survive. Life will go on.  

The rational thought was far from universal, though. O’Neill received hate mail, including death threats and even suicidal suggestions such as jumping off of a cliff and guzzling bleach.
That’s the world now. Everyone has a microphone and when someone loses a game – a game – degenerates rush to their Twitter and Facebook accounts to wish death on their sudden enemies. Humanity is lost. Primal tendencies feast. There’s an alarming disrespect for the human being on the other end and how the denigration will impact the target’s life. Oh no, such moments inspire social media trolls, equipped with direct lines to the perpetrator, to exact revenge against those who wronged them: wedgie-administering high school jocks, employers who laid them off, girls who broke their hearts, the mom who didn’t hug them enough, the fraternity that rejected their pledge, the dad for passing down his balding gene and their god for not giving them elite athletic prowess. Because in O’Neill’s situation, the trolls (in their twisted minds) would have done better. They would have executed the punt. Sure. Truth is, their continence is challenged imagining such things; nerves compromise their performance while playing video games at noon on a random Tuesday.   

The good news is O’Neill is doing fine. The stable majority of the Michigan community and the school’s Athletic Director have come to his defense. Crisis averted…this time. But there’s a Blake O’Neill in every in every town and a lot of them are much younger, much more emotionally vulnerable and lack the support afforded a player at a major college program. Collectively, our stable majority needs to protect those kids. They are inevitably in our schools. They might be playing in our cul-de-sacs. They could even be our own.  

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