In the wake of an ignorant and insensitive tweet sent to Torrey Smith from a New England Patriots fan after the team's loss to the Baltimore Ravens Sunday night, I once again find myself in a dreary, familiar place. With social media making it simple to connect with your favorite, or not so favorite, media members and athletes, I can't help but wonder... is the access practical, and even at times tolerable?
With newspapers providing anything but breaking news these days, athletes and media members have limited themselves, and dare I say, have subjected themselves to the useful tool known as Twitter to break news, share information, and feed those ever-so-passionate sports-hungry minds. Unfortunately, those passionate fans - that are known to let their emotions to get the best of them - can easily converse back.
The first amendment is a tricky one. I know this because I was on the receiving end of twitter hate during my time in Baltimore. Not only was I the target for angry Orioles fans who didn't want to be told their baseball team stunk, especially from a native Bostonian who had just come off the New York Yankees World Series, but I was the punching bag for a local small-time radio station that apparently thought harassing the new girl in town would make for good entertainment.
While I understand criticism comes with being a public figure, just because one is allowed to intentionally attempt to hurt somebody's feelings, does that make it right? And when do we say, "Enough is enough?"
Coincidentally, a female in Baltimore took advantage of her first amendment rights - like that Baltimore radio station - when she directly tweeted Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith less than 24 hours after his younger brother Tevin Jones was killed in a motorcycle accident. Obviously caught up in the Patriots dramatic loss, she somehow found the nerve and audacity to type the following words and hit send without a care. (I won't reveal her name in this column since she's already received an abundance of hateful remarks.)
"Hey, Smith, how about you call your bro and tell him all about your wi--- ohhhh. Wait. #TooSoon?"
She later followed up with: "The Pats may have lost but at least none of them lost a family member. I'd say that's a win."
Disgusting. Pathetic. Shameful. Disgraceful. Sad.
"Hitting send without a care" is the action I'm most concerned with. As I mentioned before, sports fans can certainly let their emotions get the best of them, and as a sports fan myself, I can understand that. But when did malicious intent become a component of sports and most recently an element of social media?
Michael Schlact, Texas Rangers' third-round draft pick in 2004, understands the complexity of social media and how it can affect somebody in the public eye.
"I just know that being out there is enough pressure already. Wondering who will threaten us if we lose is unnecessary," Schlact tweeted me on Thursday morning. "On and off the field we are people too. It's crazy that people feel the need to use social media in that way. #sad."
Do sports fans really think public images don't have feelings? Do they actually think that what they say, or in this case type, won't fall on deaf ears? And if they do, do we live in that cruel of a world where spewing insults is not only acceptable behavior but it's justified as well?
I'm willing to guess Torrey Smith and other members of his family did not catch wind of the nasty tweet, but what if he had? Can you conceive deliberately upsetting an already wounded individual? Please say no. And are you willing to deal with the consequences?
I'd like to think that by now most of you have caught wind that I'm tough as nails. And while some assumed thin skin got the best of me in Maryland, the truth of the matter was this: I'm human. We all are.
Human: Having the attributes of man as opposed to animals, divine beings, or machines: characterizing, or relating to man and mankind.
Relating. Can we not all relate to a time in our lives when we didn't feel like the rest of the world was on our side? Unfortunately, I think this is more common an emotion than we assume. And the fact remains, over one million people die by suicide every year while an estimated 10 to 20 million non-fatal attempted suicides transpire worldwide.
Fans in Baltimore, via twitter, have told me to kill myself, called me numerous inhumane names, and even said my father died (of cancer) to get away from me. One individual declared if he saw me in public he'd punch me in the face, and a small group of Orioles fans started a fake Twitter account in my name in an attempt to spread a rumor that I was dying of AIDS. Talk about sick behavior. Honestly, does it get much worse than that?
In addition to this vicious behavior from fans, that same local radio station in town found it appropriate to tweet about how good I smelled at work, how I may look naked, compared me to the looks of a stripper, and even declared I was lucky they "didn't knock my head off" at the water cooler at the Ravens facility.
Nobody should be subjected to that. Nobody.
Thanks to Twitter, this was all made possible.
What's next? Who's next?
I wouldn't have killed myself or crumbled over a bunch of low-life radio hacks -- grown men with wives and kids at that - but the girl coming in after me may not be as tough.
In February of 2010, Boston Mayor Tom Menino kicked off an anti-bullying awareness campaign that also included cyber bullying, the then less visible form of bullying. However, cyber-bullying instances have been increasing over the last several years. These culprits are known as electronic bullies. According to the cyber bullying Wikipedia page, "there have been several high‐profile cases involving teenagers taking their own lives in part because of being harassed and mistreated over the Internet, a phenomenon we have termed cyberbullicide - suicide indirectly or directly influenced by experiences with online aggression."
Ok, so... Can we stop?
While professional athletes like Torrey Smith are not considered candidates to take their own life over a nasty tweet from a fan, I go back to my original thought when I reflect on some of my time in Baltimore: We are human.
Stop the bullying. Stop the hate. Just stop. Period.
Jen Royle is an SB Nation Boston columnist. Follow her @Jen_Royle on Twitter.