Social media reaction to Zion Williamson decision crossed the line
By Manie Robinson, Sports Columnist, The Greenville News
For two years, basketball fans fawned over Spartanburg star Zion Williamson on social media. They marveled at his viral videos and tracked his recruitment.
They shared their desire for Williamson to choose their favorite school. They commented under his Instagram posts. They flooded his Twitter timeline with 140-character recruiting pitches. Many of Williamson’s followers suspected, or at least hoped, he would take the road less traveled.
Instead, he took I-85.
On Saturday night, Williamson announced that he will sign with Duke University, an established member of the college basketball aristocracy.
Duke secured the No. 1 class in ESPN's 2018 recruiting rankings, before Williamson’s commitment. Duke had already signed R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones, whom ESPN ranks Nos. 1, 3 and 12, respectively, among seniors. Williamson is ranked No. 2.
There is already little parity in college basketball. March Madness is portrayed as an inclusive and equitable quest for powerhouses and underdogs. But the previous 60 national championships are shared among merely 24 teams.
Williamson followed the path of countless other five-star recruits. He did not break any new ground, but, apparently, he broke a few hearts.
Many impartial observers were justifiably disappointed that Williamson augmented a competitive imbalance in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Many passionate fans were understandably dismayed that Williamson did not select their favorite team.
Most of those people handled their dissatisfaction tactfully. They congratulated Williamson on his tough decision and wished him well, except when he played against their team. Unfortunately, others allowed their displeasure to deteriorate their dignity.
Those same social media platforms that were saturated with saccharine supplications at 7:45 Saturday evening were flooded with vitriol by 8:30.
Suddenly, Williamson was an “overrated,” “soft” “sellout” for choosing a preset power over an in-state school with less heritage. He was “a bust” who could “do nothing but dunk” and was scared “to stand up and stand out.”
They insulted his appearance and his intelligence. Instead of wishing him well, they wished him injuries and embarrassment.
These were not simply impetuous responses from boorish teenagers. These were adults maliciously attacking a young man who has displayed nothing but respect and class throughout his recruitment.
Folks do not need to agree with Williamson’s decision to respect it. That does not mean we should all join hands around a campfire and sing the acoustic version of the Duke fight song. Yet, launching digital diatribes toward a high school senior accomplishes nothing.
I understand the value of sports fanaticism and the fervor it entails. When one invests that much passion into a pastime, losses — on the scoreboard or the recruiting trail — incite intense emotion.
That does not license one to respond like a raging goon. Trash talk, creative jabs and playful pranks can be entertaining. Duke built a brand on its ruthless student section, but these scorned fans crossed the line from entertaining to indecent.
This hateful discourse is unwarranted, uncouth and unamusing. It has been left unchecked, thus when it treads into areas of grave importance, like politics, race, gender and socioeconomics, discussions are largely unproductive.
Freedom of speech does not award freedom from consequences. Aside from its dangers and deficiencies, social media can reveal a person’s true character. People have lost jobs, scholarships and relationships over Twitter spats, Instagram videos or Facebook monologues.
These platforms have existed for more than a decade. Many folks still have not realized they are public forums. One may type in the privacy of a living room, but posting a message to Twitter or Facebook is no different than shouting it in a crowded restaurant.
Imagine a grown man lifting from his steak, standing on a booth cushion and yelling that he hopes a young basketball player hurts his knee and falls into anonymity.
Unprovoked hate is mystifying, but it has been tolerated, promoted and even applauded through social media. There should be no place for it in our discourse and definitely not in sports.
Freedom requires accountability. In this instance, all that commands is common decency and common sense.
Hatred should not be retweeted.