Racism and Death Threats: Just Another Day on Twitter

It's become common for pro athletes who make crucial mistakes to immediately weather an outpouring of hate and cruelty on Twitter. And no one seems to be doing a thing about it.
Publish date:
May 18, 2012
twitter, racism, issues, tech, death threats, ignorance

Sports: Beer and good times, not hate and death threats.

When backup punt returner, Kyle Williams, fumbled in overtime, effectively losing the NFC Championship game for the 49ers, I was livid. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I’m sure “I want that kid off of my team” was in there. Then it hit me that if I was this upset, Williams must be heartbroken. I imagined him waking up at 3 a.m. every night for years just replaying the fumble over and over again in his head. I started to feel bad for him.

Yes, his mistake put the nail in the coffin, but ultimately, the team shouldn’t have allowed the game to get to an overtime situation. You can’t blame one guy for the loss.

Unless, of course, you’re an anonymous jerk on Twitter. In which case, not only can you blame one guy, you can openly root for his death.

Seems a bit extreme, right? Well not to a lot of fans. In the aftermath of that loss, one fan tweeted that he hoped Williams and his family died. Another said “I hope you get AIDS and die.” And yet another: “If you died tomorrow, no one would attend your funeral. I hope your parents disown you.”

Many of Williams’ teammates and supporters immediately spoke out to support him during this time, but ultimately it was a letter from a 7-year-old kid who put the entire situation in perspective. The story goes that the kid was sobbing to his dad, “But… why… did he have to… fumble?”

And his dad asked him, “If you feel this way, how sad do you think Kyle Williams is?”

At which point, the kid stopped crying and asked, “Can I write him a letter to make him feel better?”

Here’s the letter.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t have a happy ending. (I mean, the 49ers DID still lose the NFC Championship game.) (Too soon?) Seriously though, it actually gets much worse.

In late April, Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward scored the game-winning goal in overtime to give his team the win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, eliminating the Boston Bruins. This infuriated a bunch of Bruins fans who viciously attacked Ward on Twitter. Oh, and in case you weren’t aware, Ward is black.

Just a few of the tweets that are so heinous and stomach-churning, I am having a hard time repeating them here:

“Warning to Joel Ward. Your (sic) one of three black guys in Canada. I will find you… and I will kill you.”

“We lost… to a hockey playing nigger… What kind of shit is this.”

“Of course it’s the fucking nigger. White power!”

“That nigger deserves to hang.”

I think that’s enough.

Joel Ward responded to the hateful tweets saying it “doesn’t faze me at all. We won and we are moving on. People are going to say what they want to say.”

Unfortunately, he’s all too correct about the latter.

Steve Blake after missing the three-pointer and possible game-winning basket.

After missing a crucial 3-point shot that would have given the Lakers a one-point lead in the closing seconds of Game 2 (a playoff game they lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder), guard Steve Blake’s Twitter feed was inundated with hateful messages. But not content with just directing the vitriol toward Blake, angry fans also lashed out against Blake’s wife, Kristen. And as though venom and racism weren’t horrific enough, this time the tweets included death threats.

"Steve Blake is dead meat when he gets back to LA," one fan tweeted. Another said, “I hope your family gets murdered."

I am a huge fan of social media and the way in which it allows us to connect with each other. Through blogging and Twitter, I’ve met amazing, smart, intelligent people, many of whom are now dear friends in real life. I also really appreciate the power Twitter has to rally people around a cause and disseminate information quickly.

But this anonymous and vicious hate. It is complete and total abuse of the medium and it makes me sick to my stomach.

It’s an interesting paradigm for those of us who put ourselves out there -- in whatever medium -- using our real names. It’s easy for people to find us, attack us, say hateful things. But a few “mean” names here and there is nothing like what these men are experiencing. Their families, their safety, their lives are being threatened. And there is nothing anyone can do about it because according to Twitter’s “Rules,” just wishing someone dead is not a violation.

Regarding “Violence and Threats,” Twitter says: “You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others.”

I realize this isn’t necessarily Twitter’s problem to solve, despite the fact that they are providing the medium for people to so easily verbally attack others. And though I do wish they'd do more to address it, it’s also not the platform’s fault.

These awful people will be hateful no matter what. They will share their hate with their friends and family and anyone else who will listen in whatever way they can. I guess I just miss the good ol’ days when it wasn’t so easy to share that hate with the world. When 140 characters and 15 seconds of typing didn’t garner one national media attention for being a complete jerk. When if one wanted to tell a guy off, he’d have to sit down and write a letter. Something none of these ignorant losers would ever have done.

Yes, it is amazing that we have the power to communicate so quickly and effectively in 2012. It’s just too bad so many people have to abuse it. Buy the worst part? That there are people who feel this way at all.