Roger Maris received them in route to his record-breaking 61st home run in 1961, breaking the Babe's record. Jackie Robinson got them when he broke the color barrier just 14 years earlier. Now that we're in the digital social media age, fans don't even have to put the energy into writing a letter and snail-mailing it like they did with Maris or Robinson in the olden days. Now they have access to players via Twitter, Facebook and a plethora of other outlets in the webosphere.
We've all seen them before, death threats in sports. But unlike other sports clichés, death threats were never considered 'cool' by any stretch of the imagination. Today's latest victim: the Redskins' Josh Morgan.
In case you missed it, the Skins lost to the Rams in the closing minutes — mostly in part to Morgan's 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Morgan made a catch that would have put Washington within reach of a 47-yard field goal, until he retaliated to a cheap shot by Rams defender Cortland Finnegan by throwing the ball directly at his chest. The received penalty forced the Redskins to attempt a 62-yard field goal — a kick that would have tied the NFL record — which wasn't even close.
Now, Morgan is the latest victim to receive death threats from demented, lifeless and insecure sports fans with nothing else better to do with their time.
"I heard everything, especially when they get you on Twitter and are sending you death threats and wishing you bad things and your firstborn," Morgan said according to ESPN.com. "You see it all, you hear it all. You never let it get to you, especially with me being from D.C. They treated me kind of like they did [49ers returner] Kyle Williams last year when he dropped a punt against the Giants."
And speaking of Williams, let's look at just a few of the most recent threats made in sports through social media.
Williams, who fumbled the ball against the Giants last year in the NFC championship game, cost the Niners a possible trip to the Super Bowl. The following morning was brutal for Williams, as he received horrific messages, one of them being from a tweeter that stated he 'hopes Williams and his family dies.' Another wished 'Williams died in his sleep Sunday night.'
Some may remember the shot L.A. guard Steve Blake missed in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Thunder earlier this year. The shot was at the buzzer and would have won the game for the Lakers. Because of that one missed shot, Blake and his wife woke up to threats that read, "I hope your family gets murdered."
Being an Alabama alum, not only do I remember Crimson Tide kicker Cade Foster receiving threats after missing multiple field goals in the loss to LSU last season ("Foster has to die" or "Foster has to die 5 times over," just to name a couple), but I also remember Leigh Tiffin being forced to remove his Facebook account after missing crucial field goals against Arkansas in 2006. Just a few of the Facebook groups that exploded online were
I hate Leigh Tiffin!!!!!!!!!!
Leigh Tiffin sucks my bawls!
Leigh Tiffin must be adopted
Leigh Tiffin should be expelled
F*** LEIGH TIFFIN
Tiffin was even assaulted in Tuscaloosa in 2009 by a couple people many think were angered fans acting out in response to his missed field goals three years earlier.
Kickers have it rough. They're a commodity no one really cares about until you actually need them to come through for you in the closing seconds. Even Boise State's Kyle Brotzman had to endure the wrath of hate on social networking sites after missing a 26-yard would have been game-winning field goal against Nevada in 2010. Within hours of the missed kick, the Ada County Sheriff's Department received a report about callers leaving harassing phone messages with a lady thought to be related to Brotzman.
And the hate doesn't stop with players or their families. Head Coach Lane Kiffin got death threats in Tennessee just after announcing that he was leaving the school after one season to go to USC. Three police officers had to be stationed outside the Kiffin household after the family's phone and home address were posted on the internet. Coleen Rooney, wife of famed Manchester United player Wayne Rooney, even got threats from fans after she tweeted, "Congratulations Liverpool!!!" after a Carling Cup victory. One fan responded by saying, “I used to like you and now I want all your family to burn."
Of course you have to take into account referees as well. The most famous worst-call in possibly the history of all of sports was Don Denkinger's botched final out of the 1985 World Series that cost the Cardinals the World Series title. The hate went so far that threatening letters continued for two years through 1987 until MLB security contacted the FBI. The breaking point for Denkinger allegedly came after receiving a letter in which the writer told him that if "he sees Denkinger in person, he would 'blow him away' with a .357 Magnum."
So what do we have to learn from all of this? In my opinion, two things.
A person is smart. People are dumb. History repeats itself, folks. Which means, unfortunately, this sort of behavior will always be part of the game. People are cowards and therefore love to hide behind the anonymity of a letter or tweet. We all know the 'mob-like' behavior that can easily ensue following a big win or loss for a team. I swear to this day that if the Cubs ever win the World Series, Chicago will burn itself down. But on to my second point…
Because we are in a different age and we know that this history will repeat itself, we should be able to counteract these threats more vigilantly and with more tenacity. People need to learn quickly that it's not okay to threaten anyone or their families and they should be held accountable to the furthest extent of the law. We all know we have the technology to do so. So what's the hold up? I guarantee you that if I type the words 'president,' followed by anything that rhymes with 'texsplosive,' I'll be on every FBI watch list known to man. Wouldn't be shocked to have a knock at my front door, in fact.
Being a fan is a lot of fun and can be tremendously rewarding. But when you put it ahead of someone's livelihood, it's gone way too far. If the Packers lose a game and it causes a fight with your wife, get a life. If the Yankees lose on a walk-off hit and it causes you to drive recklessly home from the bar, get a life. If the Lakers miss a game-winning free throw in the closing seconds of Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Celtics and it ruins your entire universe for more than 30 minutes, get a life.
Sports can be a great escape for us all, but if the base of your happiness is derived completely upon the result of a game, it's time to seek professional help.
As for the 99 percent of you sports fans who actually have a future in the real world, thank you for giving us some remaining faith in humanity.
Photo Credit: MRQ/Icon SMI