Andrew Wiggins is a 6-foot, 8-inch high school basketball player from Canada who played his last two years at a prep school in West Virginia. Many scouts and so-called recruiting experts believe he is the best high school prospect since LeBron James was playing in Akron, Ohio a decade ago.
Wiggins made the announcement in his high school gym this past Wednesday of what college he would play basketball for. Only one local reporter was invited to the ceremony. Wiggins had to choose between Kansas, Kentucky, Florida State and North Carolina. His parents are both graduates of Florida State and he has an older brother who plays basketball for Wichita State, which is less than three hours from Kansas’ campus in Lawrence.
With a minimum of pomp and circumstance, and with his parents in the audience, Wiggins announced that he decided to attend Kansas this fall and play for the Jayhawks. His decision immediately made Kansas a favorite to reach next year’s Final Four, in what will likely be his only year of college before heading off to the National Basketball Association (NBA).
With no television cameras, no hats and only one local reporter present at the Huntington Prep gym, Andrew Wiggins‘ understated approach to announcing his choice of college was an unusual but refreshing departure from what might have been expected of the best high school basketball prospect since LeBron James. Not understated? The reaction on Twitter trolls, who lashed out after Wiggins picked Kansas over Kentucky, Florida State and North Carolina.
Several of those fans, most of whom tweeted encouragement and good luck to Wiggins before his decision, responded with vitriol after he selected the Jayhawks at 12:12 p.m. Many of them are college students themselves. There’s a handful of NSFW language in here, and no shortage of offensive, odious gestures toward a high school senior. Also, guys, it’s “tear.”
One of the many tweets that quickly appeared on Twitter reads: “I would love nothing more than a nice ACL tare for Wiggins” — Jonathan Rose (@JonRose014) .
Setting aside the obvious spelling issue in the above message, it was one of hundreds of irate messages sent as supporters of other schools vented their frustrations. All of this over an 18 year old who has not attended a single college class or played a minute of college basketball.
Also last week it was reported that a University of Florida assistant football coach, speaking at a Gator booster function near Jacksonville, told the audience that Nick Saban of Alabama is “the devil himself” as he unfavorably compared working for Saban, which he did a few years ago, to Florida head coach Will Muschamp.
These incidents are just two more examples of people losing perspective on sports. It is a sad commentary on human nature when scores of people lash out online over the decision of an 18 year old. Seeing their favorite school win has become such an obsession for many people that they completely lose perspective.
Then, there is the case of Matthew Thomas, a star linebacker this past season at Booker T. Washington High School in Miami. On national signing day, back in February, Thomas signed a letter of intent pledging to attend Florida State. He now says that he was too hasty and signed under pressure from his mother and others. He does not want to play for the Seminoles. He wants to attend either Georgia or Southern California.
Florida State officials, after learning of Thomas’ statement, announced that the school will not release him from his letter of intent. This means that if he does not report to Florida State in August for pre-season practice, he will have to sit out a year and pay his own way for two years before he can accept a scholarship from any other school. The stated reason for this decision was that it would “set a bad precedent” if the school agreed to let the young man change his mind.
Never mind that head coach Jimbo Fisher could suddenly have decided to leave Florida State for another job and would have had to pay little or no penalty. Young men who sign letters of intent are essentially treated as indentured servants or as pieces of property.
As Florida State officials took a hard stance in the matter, hundreds of fans lit up social media sites with negative messages denouncing Thomas for his decision.
Words like “ethics” and “perspective” have become almost completely foreign to any discussion about college athletics, particularly big-time football and basketball. When anyone takes a step back and examines these situations, it is difficult to understand how people can come to let the actions and whims of 18-to 20-year-old young men take control over their lives.
It is unconscionable for anyone to wish that a serious injury happen to someone simply because that person chooses to attend a school that is not the fan’s favorite. Such people are not fans in any true sense of the word, although they certainly might qualify as “fanatics.”
There have been instances in Latin America where soccer stars have been attacked, and even killed, by someone irate about losing a bet because of a perceived poor performance by the player in question. We read about those situations and shake our heads over the behavior of people in those “backward” nations. It is perhaps only a matter of time until some unhinged fan does indeed injure or kill a young man because of something related to some game.
Our obsession with winning and need to lay blame when our team loses represents a really unpleasant side of our culture. One can only hope that at some point sportsmanship and reason will come together when it comes to thinking about the games people play.
Greg Tyler is the Library Director at the United States Sports Academy. He has also taught courses at the Academy in sports law. He worked for years in youth sports as a coach, league administrator and as a soccer referee. He has a law degree and practiced law for a number of years. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.