The ending of the Michigan-Michigan State football game on Saturday allowed us to experience one of those transcendent sports moments, but later witness a revolting reflection of our modern age.
Michigan has experienced the worst decade in their illustrious history, allowing both the working class schools of Michigan State and Ohio State to tighten the gap in their historic rivalries. However, Michigan’s hiring of Jim Harbaugh as head coach turned around the program at a pace few expected. If Michigan just could have iced a game it led from the first point up until the final second, it would have propelled the Wolverines into legitimate contention for College football playoffs.
Instead this is how it played out. The Spartans had failed on their final drive, stalling at the Michigan 45 as they trailed by 2. The Wolverines took over on downs with 1:47 to play and ran the ball three times coming up a few yards short of a first down. They had to punt with 10 seconds left. The Big House, 109,901 strong, was rejoicing in a well-earned victory. The announcers, Chris Speilman and Sean McDonough, had nothing in their voice to suggest any expectation of the miracle to come besides cliché admonitions to be careful and noticing the Spartans dedicated their entire special teams to blocking the punt.
Then came the moment punter Blake O’Neil was immortalized him in a way most of us would find difficult to carry with us. O’Neil’s mishandling of the snap and subsequent fumble were the type of play sports fans witness only a few occasions in a generation. Bill Buckner’s play was one such event, Steve Bartman’s interference with Moises Alou was another, and Nick Saban’s decision to try a 57 yard field goal at the end of the Iron Bowl in 2013 led to a similar miracle ending.
Fans of the College game will remember O’Neil and this game for at least the next quarter-century, Wolverine fans even longer. Those are the breaks for a select few who enter the national stage in big time sports and make an epic mistake.
Most of us are mere observers of the action, who can only come armed to games with our comments. With this reality, we mutter things about the players who broke our heart. Our reactions can be ugly and display the worst in us. Few passionate sports fans are not guilty of this. Personally, I remember being most motivated to say a number of things I would not want published after Roger Clemens beaned Mike Piazza in July of 2000.
Prior to social media, such unsavory words generally disappeared into the air. Of course, we have to accept that communications patterns have changed. Social media has become the equivalent of conversation for too many. We can preach how people should think before they post, but the system is too open to prevent a handful of idiots from making the basest of comments about the Australian punter’s fumble.
But it is worse when the media picks up on the worst of the musings against O’Neil and publishes them like it is more than that. The media reporting on the hate is an all-to frequent example of creating news rather than reporting on it.
Unlike the population at large, the media subject to self imposed ethical standards. For example, there is a gentlemen’s agreement by reputable outlets not to publish the names of sexual assault victims without consent. There is also an agreement to not reveal confidential sources, even when pressed by the government.
A similar constraint should be contemplated as to reporting on the overabundance — and frankly not newsworthy — opinions of vile commenters. Such guidelines should include consideration of who the commentator is. If the person is just an anonymous voice, there should generally be no reporting on the vitriol that can be expected when there is such a blunder. As Michigan athletic director Jim Hackett pointed out, it only highlights the smallest of minorities. Having such comments ignored by the media is the better option, as such publicity takes attention away from the true newsmakers. Naturally, if the comments come from someone in government, or where there is a public interest in the submitter, then reporting should be fair game.
The disparate comments, including violence threatened against O’Neil, has in many ways overshadowed the game and focus on the hero, Jalen Watts-Jackson, who grabbed the ball and ran 38 yards for the TD. He suffered a season ending hip injury, in this fall to the ground and subsequent celebration that required immediate surgery at the University of Michigan. He is an inspiring figure the team will rally around as they pursue a championship. He quickly noted he would make the same sacrifice again if he had the choice, “for his brothers.” The players who make the game worth watching are worth reporting on, not the comments from the worst of observers.