College football fans can be quite rabid. We know fans in the SEC footprint can be militant especially when someone says something they perceive as negative about their teams. Listen to the callers on the Paul Finebaum Show on radio and SEC Network and you’ll know of what we speak.
But then the Florida State fans may have taken this to a new level after reports of the Jameis Winston rape investigation surfaced. Tampa Bay Times writer Matt Baker chronicled some of the abuse that came his way from FSU fans in a torrent of angry phone calls, fake Craig’s List ads and threats after he began reporting the allegations.
Fans bombarded my phone with more than 100 calls over a couple of weeks. I answered almost every one, never knowing if it was a legitimate tip or a prank some troll would illegally record to laugh at online.
My phone number showed up in a gay personal ad on Craigslist next to a picture of a chiseled man wearing only boxer shorts and a Santa hat. One late-night response included a photo of a stranger’s penis.
And it got worse.
I was covering a high school football game one night when a Twitter post popped up on my phone:
You’re a marked man … Say goodbye.
My wife started worrying about me at home, so she reported it to the police and the FBI.
She spent that night combing through message boards, looking for other threats. Buried in the hundreds of vicious comments, she found a photo someone posted of the two of us. One of the trolls said our future children would be ugly.
When I called her on the drive home, she was in tears.
I didn’t know what to say.
It’s one thing to be supportive of your school and call a reporter to complain about his coverage. However, it’s totally another to post pictures of his family and threaten his life.
Baker also looked at similarities between the abuse he took and to what Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Sarah Ganim endured during the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.
So has the good outweighed the bad?
After 15 months of searching, I don’t know yet. Maybe I never will.
But I’m still looking.
We’d like to think that those who made personal posts and made threats are not the norm, but in this day and age of social media, maybe this is the new normal. Let’s hope this is not the case.