There are a lot of cowardly and narrow-minded people in this world and, unfortunately, many of them have social media accounts.They make statements on their own pages and post comments on those of others that are so cruel and inhuman it makes me shudder with anger. They stir things up and divide people, often by playing on the deep-seated emotions, beliefs, and values of those they've targeted and the people who follow them. As an intelligent, open-minded person raised by intelligent, mostly open-minded parents, I often find it hard not to get drawn in to some of these verbal battles to argue the other side or call out people as the fools they are. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don't. A fight is what many are looking for and just gives them more fuel and electronic real estate to spew their negativity. I think many of them only show their stupidity so freely on Facebook and Twitter because they have a sense of anonymity and distance from the person or group they're attacking. It's bad enough they think it at all, but would they say these things to a person's face, staring him right in the eye? Many wouldn't, but for some, it wouldn't be troubling in the least.
I bring this up because of a tweet I read earlier today that linked to an October 20, 2014 Detroit News interview by Angelique Chengelis in which Michigan QB Devin Gardner admitted receiving hate mail and tweets regularly, from the time he started for the Wolverines into this current season. He says in the article that he's been called the N-word "so many times this year" and estimates about 1000 instances of negative Facebook and Twitter posts.
It would be easy to say that these weren't Michigan fans and were just trolls from rival Spartans or Buckeyes. I don't believe that's always the case, though. Gardner's admission reminded me immediately of the 2011 ESPN 30 for 30 episode The Fab Five. A segment of that documentary absolutely shocked me. It was about the hundreds of vitriolic and racist letters sent to the athletic department complaining about the Fab Five, their cockiness, their playing style, even their baggy shorts. The letters were not from rivals. They were from U-M alumni, many signed with full names and graduation dates. They were from "intelligent" people with a Michigan diploma hanging on their wall somewhere. Yeah, the leaders and best. They showed actual portions of these letters and I was so struck with shame that these should come from Michigan graduates that I could have cried. I must have had a different experience during my tenure in Ann Arbor in the early 1980s. I thought I had an open mind when I got there, but after meeting so many people from all walks of life and from places all over the globe, it actually gave me an even larger appreciation of the differences and similarities between us.
I know there are racists and "haters" of all kinds in places where we would least expect them. The University of Michigan is no different. One would think it might be a changed world by 2014, but it's clearly not. People are a product of their upbringing and some will never make the change of heart or mind regardless of the level of their education or exposure to new experiences. Freedom of speech is something I believe in strongly and while these people have an absolute right to say or write what they believe, I think they would do better to keep their ignorance to themselves. There is no good purpose or excuse for these kinds of unproductive, incendiary comments. They don't educate the reader or eliminate perceived problems. They don't increase a quarterback's completion percentage or a guard's accuracy from the 3-point range. Fans who write hatefully about or directly to Michigan student-athletes aren't helping anything at all. No real fan would do that. No real human being would do that.
To combat this in my own way, instead of arguing with the angry mob, I now direct something positive to their target. I did it for both Shane Morris and Russell Bellomy when they had rough times replacing Gardner in the past few games. I didn't lie and say they did great. I just kept my sentiments kind and encouraging. I've done it for some slumping Tigers this past season, too. It makes me feel better. And if it catches the eye of someone who needs more encouragement than empty criticism and hate, I hope it gives them a needed lift.