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Monardo: It’s time to put a stop to death threats (Jan. 25)

Joseph Monardo | Tuesday, January 24, 2012

He messed up. Twice.

It is undeniable that receiver Kyle Williams failed to help his team as a punt returner during San Francisco’s 20-17 overtime loss to the Giants on Sunday. Early in the fourth quarter, with the 49ers leading 14-10 and set to regain control of the ball, Williams watched a punt brush his knee on its way past. Williams continued to spectate as an alert Devin Thomas, the first man on the scene for the Giants, scooped up the punt to tear the momentum away from the home team.

Although potentially devastating, Williams’ fumble didn’t doom the 49ers, who forced overtime with a late field goal. But when Williams’ second fumble of the day — also on a punt return —allowed New York the opportunity to kick the game-winning field goal, the young receiver capped off a day he would soon wish to forget. Unfortunately, it was undoubtedly a day that will haunt Williams for years to come.

And not just for what happened on the field.

Following the game’s conclusion, Williams received death threats from enraged fans, one of which aired on Twitter and threatened the second-year pro’s wife and child. Although Williams is single and without kids, the threats are no less disturbing.

As professional sports have continued to grow in popularity, games are followed more closely than ever and team supporters have developed a sense of pride in their crazed fanaticism. An ugly dimension of fandom has become unfortunately prevalent: anger.

In many cases, anger from a fan base is understandable and acceptable. When attempting to root for perennially unsuccessful rosters, underachieving athletes and combative teammates, a fan’s natural reaction is anger. Furthermore, the millions of dollars that athletes, coaches and executives rake in every year gives fans the right, some would say, to not only feel anger but also to voice it.

However, the case of Kyle Williams serves as a reminder to fans that the competitive and frenzied anger must be tempered by a sense of human decency. When a player receives death threats following a bad game, the fan base is out of line. Of course few, if any, would argue against such logic, and the fan who sends or posts online death threats represents an extreme case, one unrepresentative of the fan base as a whole.

But how extreme is it? Williams is hardly the only target of death threats in the sporting world from recent years, and the trend even extends to college athletics. West Virginia kicker Pat McAfee reportedly received death threats after missing two short field goals in the Mountaineers’ loss to rival Pittsburgh in 2007, Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton did as well following the Volunteers’ disappointing 5-7 season in 2008, and Boise State kicker Kyle Brotzman endured harassment and taunts after his two missed field goals came in Boise State’s loss to Nevada in 2010, which buried its hopes of a national championship.

Most dedicated fans have felt, at one time or another, anger directed at a player who let the team and its fans down. In the digital age, upset fans are able to take to social networking sites to express their displeasure, and it is here that a select few fans allow their anger to carry them too far. Except in the case of someone truly deranged, it is certainly difficult to imagine any fan who would actually wish for serious harm to befall an athlete or his family. Rather, death threats are more likely the result of anger in the immediate aftermath of a loss fueled by the access to vent via the internet. No proofreading necessary, no need to reconsider one’s statement. And this is what is dangerous.

So yeah, Kyle Williams messed up, he made a mistake, he had a rough day on the job. As a fan, when Williams, or any other player in the future, dashes your hopes of a Super Bowl, World Series, BCS National Championship, etc., feel free to shake your head, pull your hair out or scream into your pillow.

But please, for the sake of the human under the helmet, refrain from issuing a death threat. If that is not motivation enough, at least consider whether you want the NFL to investigate you as a credible threat to murder one of its employees.

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.