Let’s be clear about sports message boards

I feel like I need to make sure I’m clear about something regarding Sunday’s column: there are indeed redeeming qualities to message boards, even message boards about high school sports.

I wrote that in the middle of Sunday’s column, writing that there are a lot of worthy topics, information and spirited debates on most of the prep websites out there.

And I never wanted to imply that just because someone might post something on a message board means he’s some sort of angry lunatic.

But let’s be clear. There is some of that out there and it is plain to see. While not all of the juvenile comments on these things are done by adults — a great many of them are in fact posted by, well, juveniles — you can kind of tell where the train has left the track on some of these things.

Message boards are like anything else; they are useful and fun at their best, but they can certainly be turned to the dark side on occasion. All I want to do with my column is point out that some of this stuff is way beyond the line, and it should be viewed as such. 

The problem is that I work with high school coaches everyday, and I know for a fact that some of these things get to them and keep them up at night. And I can only imagine what a kid thinks when he stumbles upon a comment about himself made by some dude hiding behind the friendly confines of a login and password. 

Of course, message boards are here to stay and will continue to both serve a purpose and sometimes serve the lowest common denominator at the same time.

I guess it’s like the saying people like me don’t like to hear: Don’t always believe what you read.

Here’s the column

GO ONLINE TO GET THE MESSAGE

He sits at his computer, the screen illuminating his face.

The fingers that were wooden in the cold during the game are thawing, beginning to move effortlessly across the keyboard.

In the stands, he is nothing. 

Oh, he’s a parent, but not a very important one. Or maybe he is. Maybe his kid’s a stud. Or maybe his kid didn’t do much more than he did during the game. Saw about as much playing time as his old man did.

Or maybe he’s not a parent. Maybe he’s just a fan. Maybe he played back in the day. Maybe he was a star. Maybe he wasn’t. But he knows the game.

At least he thinks he does.

And he sure as heck knows more about his team, the other team and the team penciled in later on the schedule, too. Knows more than the clown hollering from the stands across the field.

And so he burns. Burns inside.  

But he doesn’t have to stand for it. Not anymore. Not now.

Not with the Internet.

Not that long ago, if he wanted to confront the big mouth over there about his team, or maybe discuss his son with the coach, he would’ve had to walk over and do it right then. He would’ve had to walk up to him and see him face-to-face, man-to-man, adversary-to-adversary. 

He probably would’ve also have had to remain civil. Shouting, cursing, fisticuffs aren’t going to do much good, though he’s certainly heard of that kind of thing happening before. So maybe he has to go there.

Or he can allow the rage to fester inside of him.

Until he gets home.

It’s the ugly underbelly of high school sports, the woebegone fan losing his mind over the perceived slight of his or her kid or his team. It’s a battle that simmers every season, sometimes boiling over, but rarely anything to write home about. 

But things are different now. Now the angry man can go underground. He can write, not to home, but at home.

He can go online.

He can rant.

He can start a rumor. 

He can ruin a life.

The above scenario is fictitious, but a casual glance at any of the high school sports websites and their message boards makes it seem likely. It doesn’t take a giant leap of faith to think of such an occurrence taking place. Consider these few nuggets from a recent post at one of the websites (Names of schools have been changed to limit the embarrassment to what are supposed to be institutions of learning, not athletic factories; also, be wary of some of the language):

“I remember (My Team) coming to YOUR HOUSE!!! And BEATING a 15-0 (Team X) like a stinking old drum, a rented mule, if you will.

“If we want any crap out of a (Team X) homer, we will do just what (My Team) did to them, beat it out of them!”

Or:

“So your (sic) suggesting that since our talent hasn’t taken care of it lately, we should just cheat like you flatlanders do when they are low on talent, huh?”

Or:

“You remind me of politicians who answer in gibbish (sic) because they don’t know the answer and they think that they are impressing people. Usually it is a sign of their immaturity and low mentality. This describes you perfectly. So, from this point on I will not respond to your posts because I had much rather discuss issues with a more intelligent lifeform and you are not one. So, go hide back under your rock and hibernate for another year.”

Maybe it’s not the most venomous stuff in the world, and it’s not profane, but the tone catches on. And these posts came from a sport that has been out of season for five months. 

While a lot of the stuff posted online in these forums can be informative and foster serious debate — a lot of it, actually — there are cracks in the system. One post referred to “an angry black coach” in a racially demeaning way, which should make us all shudder when we consider than anybody can go online and find this stuff. The posts are specific; it wouldn’t take a lot of research to find out who the “angry black coach” is if you were from the area the post was referring to. How is that fair to that gentleman? 

Hate on a high school message board. Incredible.

We’re too far down the road to really do anything about some of this garbage. Online moderators of forums are nice, but when there are 103 posts on a thread that is just a day old on a website with pages after pages of posts, it’s hard to keep up with the vitriol.

There is no accountability to message boards. Hiding behind a nickname or online handle emboldens the poster beyond his normal personality. He can vent all he wants, can write just about anything he wants about someone, something or, as ghastly as it sounds, some kid.

It’s hard to imagine that this kind of talk has spiraled down to the high school level. Pro sports? Fine. They’re grown men getting paid to perform. But grown adults talking trash about high school rosters filled with 15-to-18-years-olds must be the lowest form of fanaticism, yet it’s growing rampantly.

If criticizing kids weren’t enough, coaches bear the brunt of these boards, too. It’s hard to imagine the days of the coach spending 20 or 30 years at one program and becoming a local legend anymore. A few down years, and the boards light up, and heads are expected to roll. 

Never mind that the coach is a member of the community, with a mortgage, a wife and two kids who need the coaching supplement to boost his teacher’s salary. 

But it’s just like the pros, right? If he can’t get it done, he has to go. Who cares whether he’s good for the kids? Who cares that he might be a heckuva science teacher?

He ain’t winning, not enough anyway, and prepfan4u just posted a thread. 

And he isn’t happy.

Join in.

 

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2 Comments

Filed under Designated Hitter, Grace Christian, Lee Christian, Lee County High School, Prep sports, Southern Lee High School, Sports, Sports columns, The Sanford Herald

2 responses to “Let’s be clear about sports message boards

  1. Brian Joura

    You can’t stop people from saying/doing stupid things. But if you want to run a responsible site, you absolutely should require people to sign up and login before they are allowed to post comments.

    When you take the anonymity away, you’ll find that a lot of the profanity/juvenile stuff leaves, too. And it doesn’t even have to be real names. As long as the board limits people to one name each time they post, there shouldn’t be any problems.

    Then, if ballfan4life starts making inappropriate comments, someone can report him, the moderator can track his comments and then take appropriate action (if necessary) to ban that IP address from ever commenting again on the site again.

    Sure, the offending person can go down to the library and post anonymously, but after awhile that becomes more trouble than it’s worth and the site returns to the people who want to engage in serious dialogue.

    Take a look at 10 different discussion boards, with five that require users to login and five that allow anonymous posting. The ones that have a login are more civilized and have better discussions going.

    And it has nothing to do with the size of the online site. Some of the worst message board sites are ones attached to major newspapers that allow anonymity.

    I was a member of one group that transitioned from anonymous posting to one that required a login. I was dubious at first but the quality of discourse has gone up and the trolls and other undesirables were virtually wiped out.

    Sites are reluctant to do it because they may lose out on some readers. But the readers you lose aren’t worth having in the first place.

  2. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Threader!!

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