Online criticism has been quite the hot topic in the A10 recently. Dayton coach Anthony Grant gave an impassioned speech defending his players and criticizing the hate-filled direct messages some of his players received from upset gamblers after the Flyers lost to VCU in the final seconds. After the Dayton-GW game, GW coach Chris Caputo seconded Grant’s comments and mentioned his players have been on the receiving end of online abuse. UMass coach Frank Martin also made a series of comments regarding online criticism both towards him and his players that made waves on A10 Twitter.
With the separate rises of online gambling and NIL, players are finally getting paid over the table for their efforts, and many observers of sporting events (I hesitate to call these people fans) feel they have an increased stake in the proceedings. Combine that with social media giving easy access to the players and coaches themselves, and it’s easier than ever for some idiot to fire off a quick threat to some 19 year old kid over a lost bet. That’s obviously beyond the pale and completely wrong. The rise of easy online and mobile betting becoming legalized in many states is clearly leading to a national rise in toxic betting culture. Kudos to Grant for speaking up and doing so in a really effective manner.
That being said, it’s easy to mix up this type of over the line, asshole behavior and turn it into advocating that no fans should ever criticize players or coaches. That’s wrong! It’s totally within bounds to tweet or post or write or vocalize over Spaces respectful criticism of the on-court product. However, it is undeniable that players and coaches have more ability to see those criticisms than ever before. It is undeniable that many people on Twitter and other social media platforms can go over the top and cross the line with their posts. Thus, we come to a vital question: where does the line sit?
We live in a free country with substantial First Amendment freedom of speech protections. This is a great thing. I also think it is fair to say that the line for appropriate levels of basketball criticism stops well short of exercising one’s full First Amendment right to be a complete jerk. The guy who sent Trayce Jackson-Davis that insane letter? He likely didn’t do anything legally wrong, and he was exercising freedom of speech but he definitely crossed the line in terms of basketball fandom (and sanity). Any type of critical direct message to a player or a coach? That’s crossing the line too. Any type of threat or implication that a player or coach is in some kind of danger or trouble because of their performance in a game? 110% crossing the line!
Something that is totally okay is the respectful airing of opinions among fans. Whether it’s on social media, or in a bar, or in the arena (emphasis on respectful and impersonal!), fans absolutely should be allowed to criticize their team. Fans are not the propaganda arm of the program they root for and coaches and administration shouldn’t expect them to act as such.
I’m a SLU fan. As long as I am respectful, it’s perfectly okay for me to criticize Travis Ford and say that he should probably be on the hot seat, for instance. It’s perfectly okay for me to call out one of SLU’s players for missing a defensive rotation or poor shot selection or something like that. It’s also perfectly okay for them to ignore me. As a matter of fact, I think it is a good thing if they do ignore me! When I tweet, the target audience is generally to other SLU fans and to contribute to that discourse . I’m not trying to tweet directly at the players
However, part of the fun about being a fan and being passionate about a sports team is watching the games and analyzing and sharing opinions, whether it is on social media, or in a bar, or with my family. I’m lucky enough where I have a moderate Twitter following and a platform to write on A10Talk to do that with. A10Twitter and the respective team communities on these websites typically enhance the experience for A10 fans and that’s awesome. If we couldn’t make any criticisms because it hurts feelings, that’d make the experience much worse.
It gets weird in this day and age because social media lets the players and coaches essentially eavesdrop on those conversations to a level they have never been able to before. However, just because coaches and players see things on social media and get insulted by it doesn’t mean that the person posting it is wrong.
Ultimately, I think the line comes out to something like this: fans have every right to criticize and analyze, but it’s on them to ensure that they are respectful and impersonal in doing so. Limit it to the on-court product and strictly basketball stuff. Players and coaches have the responsibility to learn how to tune out the criticisms and ideally not go searching for it. If everyone can stick to those goals, the experience of college basketball becomes much better for all the parties involved.