Monday, May 25, 2009

Vander Blue And The Internet

One of the big recruiting stories of the week was the de-committing of star 2010 recruit Vander Blue from the University of Wisconsin. Now, de-commits happen all the time, but this is a big story because of why: the Internet. Blue has had academic troubles, and there have been questions for some time whether he would go to a school like Marquette (Wisconsin's biggest rival, and chief in-state recruiting competitor) simply because he wouldn't be able to handle Wisconsin's academics. The problem is that this talk began to dominate Wisconsin basketball message boards. Blue read what was on the message boards, and it bothered him, and now he's re-opened his commitment.

Now, a lot of ink has been spilled analyzing this situation, but I think the best analysis comes from, believe it or not, Gary Parrish. Yes, that Gary Parrish. First of all, I think people often forget that athletes are real people. Think about when you were a 16 year old kid, and how many stupid things you did. Now imagine if a bunch of pompous, self-righteous 45-year old men were analyzing your mistakes and talking about how much you did wrong, and all in a public forum? How would you feel?

And besides that, I think it's just a more general problem, as Parrish says, with the anonymity on the Internet. Go look at the nasty comments on basically any article on any major news or sports website. Go look at the nasty comments on any team's message boards, or even in the comments on blogs (like the idiot Memphis fans who constantly come on here and call me names that I have to censor every time I dare talk about Memphis). People behave this way because of anonymity, and for two reasons. For one thing, people can say things that they'd be embarrassed to say in public. But I think a lesser known reason is that when you're on the computer you often forget that you're talking to real people. It's easy to get out our demons screaming at our computer screen, and it's easy to forget that a real person is going to be reading that. As Parrish says:

I can't tell you how many wild (and anonymous) words are written about me each month either on message boards or via e-mail; words that question my integrity, background, education, sexuality, hairstyle (that one's open for criticism, I suppose) and anything else you can imagine. Every once in a while, I actually take the time to respond in the most reasonable way I know. And more times than not, I get a response within hours from somebody apologizing and explaining how they wouldn't never been so rude or brash or ignorant if they really believed I would read it.

How many of those flaming "fans" would say those same things if they were actually staring at a real person? Almost none of them. And unfortunately, that's something which isn't going to change anytime soon. As long as people are talking to a computer screen rather than a real person, they are going to continue to behave as if no real person is going to read what they're typing, and they're going to behave in a way they never would in real life. And that's too bad.

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