Some might expect that I would enjoy watching a rival school and fanbase cannibalize itself over near-success but ultimate failure; however, I really don't. Iowa Hawkeye senior Zach McCabe missed a crucial shot at the end of a game against a ranked Wisconsin team, a shot which was set up specifically for him. His team lost because of it. People who watched the game questioned the play call and some, most likely a fraction of a fraction of one percent of the Iowa fanbase, took to twitter to state their feelings and mention McCabe. McCabe then fired back by tweeting, "The fact that I have Iowa fans saying s*** [to] me is incredible...you fans suck...suck a fat one all of you."
While I don't condone the tweet back, I know exactly what he's feeling. In the final game of the 2012 regular season against West Virginia (at home, on senior night, with the winner of the game essentially guaranteed to go to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego), we were driving with less than 2:30 on the clock in regulation, down by 7. Shontrelle Johnson was rolling at runningback, but once the ball got inside the 10 yard line, it was essentially my territory. I was substituted in with the ball at the 6 and given the handoff. I bounced right, got chopped by a defender and his helmet hit the ball squarely and I fumbled into the endzone. They recovered. Game over. I lost us the game. I was nearly inconsolable on the sidelines, sobbing, knowing that my lack of technique and their luck (I say luck, because there's no way that direct of a hit to the ball comes without a little bit of luck) cost us the game. My position coach, Kenith Pope, took me by the chin and said, "Get yourself up. You're better than that. There are so many things that happened by everyone on this team that gave us this loss. Keep your head UP!" I'll never forget those words-- why? Because they were positive. They got me off the mat. I apologized to every senior in the locker room after the game and they all said the same thing-- keep your head up. We wouldn't have even been in that position without you.
The reason I tell that story is this; there is NO ONE who feels worse about the situation than the one who didn't make the play. NO ONE. When I got on twitter after that game, I read some very supportive things. I read some mean, mean things about me also, most of which I don't specifically remember. What I do remember is how that made me feel. I wanted to tell everyone that I was sorry for the play that I made, and that all I wanted was to make up for it. But I also wanted to tell everyone saying awful things to shut the hell up.
The player is actually on the field (or court) and is actually part of the team. They have invested countless amounts of time, effort, and sacrifice to be where they are. They have formed a relationship with their teammates, coaches, and staff which can't be described as anything less than family. When a play doesn't get made, they feel personally responsible and, like I said, no one feels worse than them. All they need is to be lifted up. So when a fan, who isn't on the team, hasn't put in work, and hasn't sacrificed much of their life to get to where they are says something derogatory about a player, the ONLY possible outcome is negative, whether it be internalizing or lashing out by the athlete.
I'm not saying that fans aren't emotionally invested in games. Believe me, when I watch an Iowa State basketball game, I am as invested as a fan can possibly get. It's frustrating when things don't go well, and I get a huge rush when they do. And as a player, when fans are supportive, you'd be hard pressed to find anything that can improve your performance like that. With the advent of Twitter though, I have the ability to publicize all of those emotions and say exactly what I want, to who I want, the instant I want to. But I don't, unless it's positive. That's because I know what it's like on the other side. Trust me, athletes see what you tweet them, it's just a matter of responding.
Now that I'm removed from playing, I have a slightly different vantage point on all of this to add to the one I've already had. Without beating around a bush about this, saying rude things to a player after failure makes the person making the comment look like a complete ass. You look petty, you look desperate, you look like you have no idea that words will actually land somewhere, and most of all, you look like someone who's probably not that well liked because you are a negative person.
So don't say rude things to a player after a bad performance. Ever. Under any circumstances. On the internet, in person, or calling in on a radio show. If you have something to help or suggest, by all means, interact! We, as athletes, love to hear things like what my coach and teammates said to me-- keep your head up, you're still appreciated. We love to hear that even though we feel about as bad as a person can feel, we are still supported. We love to hear love. The bad parts will come out in film and practice, and it'll come out in ways that will be constructive by coaches and teammates.
Long story short; if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.
ps- If this gets enough pageviews, there is more than likely going to be someone that posts something negative about it/me in the comments box. Look at that person and what your impression is of them, and then ask yourself how you want to be seen with your comments.