The 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, more popularly known as “March Madness,” tipped off March 18. During the first round, the No. 15 Oral Roberts University (Okla.) Golden Eagles upset the No. 2 Ohio State University Buckeyes 75-72 in overtime on the second day of the tournament. The end of the Buckeyes’ season was definitely disappointing, as they became only the ninth No. 2 seed in the history of the men’s tournament to lose to a No. 15 seed.
One of the Buckeyes’ best players, sophomore forward E.J. Liddell, missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw with 37 seconds left in regulation, giving the Golden Eagles the chance to tie the game and send it to overtime. Despite missing, Liddell played very well, scoring a team-high of 23 points to go along with 14 rebounds and five assists.
After the Buckeyes’ loss, however, Liddell received two threatening messages from fans on Instagram, which Liddell then posted on Twitter. One of the fans threatened to find and physically attack Liddell. Another wrote “You are such a f—ing disgrace. Don’t ever show your face at Ohio State. We hate you. I hope you die, I really do.” In response, Liddell tweeted “Honestly, what did I do to deserve this? I’m human.”
Honestly, what did I do to deserve this? I’m human. pic.twitter.com/djXzhSH0q8
— E.J. Liddell (@EasyE2432) March 20, 2021
Shocked by the news of one of his players receiving threats, Buckeyes head coach Chris Holtmann took to Twitter and stated “Recent social media comments to EJ Liddell, while not from or representative of Ohio State fans, are vile, dangerous and reflect the worst of humanity.”
In response to his own tweet, Liddell commented, “Comments don’t get to me but I just wanna know why. I’ve never done anything to anyone in my life to be approached like this.”
The messages sent to Liddell demonstrate a larger issue of inhumanity on social media. The internet provides an easier outlet for individuals to harass others as they are able to maintain their anonymity behind their screens. Some 59% of U.S. teens have been bullied or harassed online, and a similar amount says it is a major problem for people their age. At the same time, teens believe that teachers, media companies and politicians are failing to address this issue.
The threats that were sent to Liddell also reflect the cruelty that exists in society. College athletes endure high amounts of pressure daily from their academics and sports without pay. No amount of an athlete’s mistakes make it acceptable for fans to send such brutal messages. Beyond sports, humans have the obligation to treat each other with kindness rather than viciousness.
Unfortunately, Liddell’s incident is not the first of its kind in either professional or collegiate sports, and cyberbullying has led many to leave social media platforms altogether. In the MLB, Toronto Blue Jays catcher Josh Thole stopped using Twitter in 2011 due to its toxic culture.
“It was just constant negativity,” Thole told USA Today Sports. “As a team we weren’t playing well. Personally, I wasn’t playing well. So it was becoming a grind. Every time you opened your phone up, you had all these Twitter notifications, and it was, ‘You stink,’ ‘You suck,’ ‘You should jump off the bridge.’ I don’t need that.”
In May 2019, 23-year-old Addison Choi was sentenced to 18 months in prison for sending death threats to college and professional athletes on Instagram. At the time, Choi was a member of the Babson College (Mass.) soccer team. Choi was involved in sports betting and would threaten athletes who hurt his chances of winning money.
Brackets, bets or other investments should never be a reason to threaten others. Athletes are human, after all.
Some athletes actually fight back against their haters on social media. In the NBA, Brooklyn Nets All-Star Kevin Durant has fun using burner accounts to comment on hate posts about himself.
As social media maintains an enormous presence in everyday life, it is important to understand the dangers of online attacks, such as the threats directed toward Liddell, and the need to denounce such actions. No 20-year-old should ever log into social media and be threatened with death.