Last June, iSportsWeb assigned an article to each of its NFL correspondents: Write about a player who should be “nervous” about making the final roster of the team you cover.
I thought about my New York Jets. It would be too easy to pick on headache running back Mike Goodson (whom the Jets fittingly released a week later). Nobody would be any better off if I wrote that wide receiver Stephen Hill was on the hot seat after two unimpressive seasons in the league. No low-hanging fruit for me; I wanted to challenge myself. I shifted focus to the defense and chose nose tackle Kenrick Ellis.
My stance on Ellis, if you’re wondering, is that he’s overrated and underperforming. I felt I wrote a compelling article – Damon Harrison and Leger Douzable have both been more effective at the position, and if the Jets were to let Ellis go, the team could keep an extra player at the problem position of cornerback. I also emphasized that I didn’t really think Ellis will be cut in the end, and I still don’t.
I didn’t know I was in the minority with my stance on Ellis until after I published my article, when the majority spoke their minds in the comments section. Disagreement and debate are healthy, but as can be expected, the commenters targeted the writer more than the idea. I took it all personally until I read the following:
“Adam, you are an example why some people should be banned from the internet. Are you on heroin?”
I sat up. No, I wasn’t on heroin, actually. That’s what snapped me out of my brief self-loathing and showed me how unimportant and stupid these comments were.
I read them over again with a new, lighter mindset. Some original comedic mind copied and pasted the “ultimate insult” scene from Billy Madison and attached my name. “How do they let you write and publish this?” asked another person who’d never heard of a marketplace of ideas. All that was missing was a Godwin’s Rule-affirming comparison of me to Der Führer himself.
At this point, if I may impose this assumption on you, I bet you’re asking why I’m writing about the issue of rude Internet commenters if my solution is just to shrug them off. Not two weeks after my Kenrick Ellis article, our website’s Kansas City Chiefs correspondent wrote a very unpopular (or popular, depending on how you look at it) essay saying Alex Smith doesn’t deserve big money. My article got eight negative comments that I was upset about; this Smith piece had 79.
His article contained a few factual errors, but most of the remarks aimed at the author were unnecessarily nasty. The worst: “You’re a moron. Your mother should have smothered you in an inch of water while your [sp] were still an infant.”
There is absolutely no case where this is appropriate, least of all when debating sports. Then I saw that our Chiefs writer was feeding the flames by responding back in the comments – continuing to stand his ground, but very politely. I felt the need to leave the writer my own comment, encouraging his work but recommending he pick greater adversaries than Internet trolls.
Man vs. Food host Adam Richman could have used this advice, too, when he received backlash on Instagram for using the controversial hashtag #thinspiration. He said horrendous things to his followers like “Only f***up it seems was your dad’s choice to go without a condom” and “grab a razor blade and draw a bath. I doubt anyone will miss you.” As a result of this rampage, Travel Channel indefinitely postponed his forthcoming new program, Man Finds Food.
Though it isn’t an example from the journalism world, it still illustrates how far some people will go when they have a computer screen to act as a shield of anonymity. In Richman’s case, getting defensive meant going on the offensive. In other cases, journalists like ESPN sport business reporter Darren Rovell are known better for their asinine social media behavior than for their work. I don’t want to follow the same path.
The Internet and social media have turned journalism into a two-way street, and interaction with your readership can be valuable to writers. It turns sour when attention-seeking Internet trolls see that a comments section gives them a platform almost equal to the writer’s. Doubly bad when they can get a reaction out of that writer.
I’m 20 years old. I am grateful that I’m being exposed to this real-world issue now, so I can learn how to properly deal with it now.
Fight a jerk on my article’s comments section? I’d sooner start doing heroin.