What if, on your worst day ever at work, hundreds of people took to social media to ridicule and shout you down? What if some of those posts were hateful, violent and disgusting?
Some say Saturday was University of Michigan punter Blake O’Neill’s worst day ever.
The fifth-year senior, rugby-style punter from Melbourne, Australia fumbled a snap during the final seconds of the game against rival Michigan State.
The play astounded the college football world and lit up social media immediately. Astonishment, however, quickly turned much darker. So-called fans and others posted hateful vitriol on Twitter — which national news media quickly reported with sensational headlines. Some tweets included death threats.
This is the awful side of social media — the one you hear about from the media. The one that get’s passed around the echo chamber that Twitter can often become when these seemingly unbelievable and equally emotionally-charged plays occur in sports. It’s the same one that makes people shake their collective heads and discourage student-athletes from using the platforms.
— Peter Burns (@PeterBurnsESPN) October 18, 2015
But an interesting thing happened in the hours since Mr. O’Neill’s fateful fumble. Twitter — it turns out — has a softer side. It’s one you won’t likely read about on your favorite sports news site.
Blake O’Neill is human, and — yes — he had a pretty awful day. But it’s just a game, and today is a new day. And some people — many more than you probably realize — are letting Blake O’Neill know that.
— Pat Stansik (@patstansik) October 17, 2015
— Chaitu Malempati (@malempatisports) October 18, 2015
Who will help me send an encouraging word to @blakewoneill? Head up, young man. You are and will be a huge part of the UM comeback.
— Lt Gov Brian Calley (@briancalley) October 18, 2015
— Maru Grand Rapids (@MaruGrandRapids) October 18, 2015
@blakewoneill hang in there mate! You're a great punter and UM is lucky to have you. Beat Ohio State!
— Maui Man (@MauiMan70) October 18, 2015
In fact, sentiment around Mr. O’Neill’s Twitter mentions was trending 75 percent positive, as more and more tweets of encouragement began pouring in.
It’s quite remarkable when you begin to actually read some of the heartfelt and uplifting tweets — coming from Michigan fans, but also others who have no reason to tweet a student-athlete, other than to give him some encouragement following a pretty horrible day. So, here are a few more.
@blakewoneill millions of true UM fans are behind you Blake! Go Blue!
— Keith Lockwood2 (@KeithLockwood2) October 18, 2015
@blakewoneill 1st ever tweet at a player. Hang in there. Don't let the minority fans on the fringe get to you. Glad to have you as a Wlvrn.
— The Time is Now (@RegulamAd) October 18, 2015
Chin up @blakewoneill ! Today is a new day. Focus on your amazing 80 yard punt and how you are going to use that to beat OSU! Best wishes
— Courtney Cavinder (@cavinder02) October 18, 2015
Keep your head up young man @blakewoneill
— Jason Pinkston (@JasonPinkstonOL) October 18, 2015
It’s never OK to post death threats or other hateful messages — especially directed toward student-athletes. If you see these tweets, report the user to Twitter and encourage your followers to do the same.
I just spent 15 minutes looking at the Michigan punter's mentions and reported about 10 people. Take a stand on @twitter abuse.
— Chris Forman (@ChrisForman12) October 18, 2015
But my point is — don’t throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to sports and social media. Seek the good and you’ll be surprised how many others like you are out there. Social media has a definite dark side. But not all of us are drawn to it.
Thanks for being a fan.