In An Increasingly Toxic World, Where Does Ohio State Fanatic Behavior Cross The Line?

By Chris Lauderback on January 15, 2023 at 11:05 am
Passionate college sports fans are a great thing, as long as some level of decorum is maintained.

With rumors suggesting C.J. Stroud would come back to Ohio State if an NIL deal comes through swirling on message boards and Twitter ramping up over the last few days, I saw a chunk of fans saying he wouldn't and shouldn't come back based on how he was treated by Buckeye fans. 

I won't use this column to share any comments from messages board posters of any site nor any tweets - that's not what this space is for today. Instead I'm curious what you all think crosses the line and what is acceptable when it comes to expressing opinions, criticisms and frustrations about Ohio State athletes and coaches? 

In a world I perceive to be growing in toxicity and polarizing behavior by the day, it's certainly aided by the largely anonymous protection registering and posting on message boards, tweeting etc. provide. It's not a new phenomenon that people say things online that they'd likely not have the balls to say to someone face to face. 

But against the backdrop of public discourse eroding regardless of topic or venue, the fact is there really aren't many stated ground rules for how fans should interact or talk about players and coaches across channels. Combined with the noted option of anonymity and not having to stand toe to toe with the target of criticism, a fan's evolution to fanatic, fringe lunatic, someone that takes the games way too seriously and can't control their emotion or maybe was raised by wolves can bring out the worst in them. In all of us, really. 

And with that, we all end up having our own version of what the rules of engagement are, which in and of itself can fuel angry disagreements over not even the topic at hand but how the topic is being discussed. 

None of this means it's wrong for a fan or a columnist or anyone in between to lodge a complaint, snarky or not, about an Ohio State player, coach or team on the internet. Certainly a beat writer shouldn't do this - it's really their job to report the news - but for others writing for an outlet or the fans, honestly discussing the perceived strengths, weaknesses, successes and failures - individual or otherwise - are part of what makes sports fun and interesting. 

At a school like Ohio State, the players and coaches need to accept some level of bad with the good, right? Passionate fans spend money. The passion indirectly and directly helps pay for stadiums, amenities and athletic facilities. It drives television ratings, creates the very need for NIL deals to entice players to come to or stay in Columbus. Players at Podunk U. don't have to deal with any level of criticism but that's because nobody cares. One of the reasons players and coaches come to Ohio State is because fans care. A lot. 

It's not to say those realities give fans a license to cross the line in tweeting at players or coaches, which they really shouldn't do anyway but saying negative things about them on message boards or Twitter on some level is part of the territory, right? 

But what is crossing the line? I've seen lots of comments recently about a certain tight end that doesn't appear to a very consistent blocker and didn't catch a touchdown pass in the Michigan game. Those things irked a lot of fans to the point they weren't all that thrilled he came back. In full transparency, I'm guessing I've voiced some displeasure about this player from to time to time. I don't think I've ever crossed a line but I'm also glad he's coming back. Starting experience is good. He can do some things. 

On sites like this one dedicated almost exclusively to Ohio State sports, you can bet parents of these players read a lot of not only what is written in staff articles but also what is said in the comments of those articles and in our forums. Does that change how you should criticize or is it okay to disparage players considering this ain't intramurals, brother

I know this type of article isn't my usual and hell it probably sucks. I typically come at you with some statistic charts and whatnot to bolster an opinion or discuss a topic (hell those might suck too lol) but I'm legit curious what this site's readership views as the ground rules for voicing displeasure.

Yes, I'll call out some individual player and coach performances in my Five Things on Sunday morning following football games but seldom do I write a column centered on one particular player or coach that could be construed as overly negative because I'm unhappy with that person's play or coaching. In the few instances I've done it - I've certainly voiced some frustration about Chris Holtmann's tenure - I've tried to be mindful of what I think my "line" might be, to make sure I don't cross it. That said, on at least two occasions the subjects of my columns felt I crossed their line and told me so directly. 

Which I guess is a transition from players to coaches. Does your line allow for a higher degree of criticism when it's directed at a coach, considering that coach is an adult and is making a shit ton of money? I'm sure that indeed changes the stakes for many. I know it does for me as illustrated by the Holtmann article above. If they play their cards right, the coaches are here longer which also plays a part in shaping a fan's tolerance or lack thereof with any perceived shortcomings leading to the fan's favorite team losing a key recruit, a big game or generally falling behind in the quest to take the program to the top of the mountain. 

Bottom line, I'm sure players are much more focused on what their peers in the locker room and their coaches think about their performance. But I also think each player or coach isn't immune to being curious about what the fans and writers are saying. And considering the sheer volume of players and coaches subject to fan opinions, some will have rabbit ears, seeking out comments, whereas others will be far less interested or sensitive. 

Knowing we'll all continue having our own rules of engagement, when fan emotions are high, maybe just take a few more seconds and reread your hot take before launching it into the Buckeye-sphere. I'll try to do the same. 

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