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Arizona State's football season is just two weeks old, but already a portion of its fan base is fed up. After last Saturday's loss to San Diego State, the social-media outrage got so bad that the football program had to intervene, an act that got national attention.
Posted at 12:46 a.m. Sunday on the official ASU football twitter account:
"If you feel the need to Tweet/DM degrading and insulting comments at our student-athletes, please direct it to this account instead. Thanks."
The best and worst parts of social media: It gives everyone a voice. A decade ago, people could say whatever they wanted about college athletes and no one cared because so few heard about it. Basically, what was said in the sports bar, stayed in the sports bar.
Much has changed.
Today, since most college athletes have Twitter accounts, fans can direct venom directly to an athlete's digital doorstep. For better or worse, this gives the public an opportunity to communicate with players on the field. It also blurs the line over what's appropriate and what isn't.
"I don't think (fans) should be tweeting directly at players, but now it's so easy," said former ASU receiver Derek Hagan, who played in the NFL from 2006 to 2014. "But it's not like these guys are professional football players. They're still in college."
Asked about this at his weekly news conference, coach Todd Graham said Monday that he accepts a fan's right to criticize. When a team underperforms, it's part of the deal. At the same time:
"It's not productive," he said. "We talk to our guys about controlling the things we can control and that's our attitude and our effort. All you have to do is go out and perform on the field and you don't have to worry about that kind of criticism. That's why I don't spend much time on social media."
Junior quarterback Manny Wilkins and sophomore punter Michael Sleep-Dalton both took abuse after Saturday's 30-20 loss to San Diego State. Wilkins completed 20 of 33 for 298 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked four times and lost a fumble.
Among the comments tweeted at him:
"If you are a true Sun Devil you will hang them up bro."
"Really appreciate you ruining this team and what Taylor Kelly built. Pathetic (expletive) loser."
Sleep-Dalton the past two weeks has battled a muscle strain in his right (punting) leg. No matter. The Australian simply has punted with his off foot " his left " something he did well in Week 1, but not so much against San Diego State. One punt traveled 12 yards.
"Your the (expletive) punter on the planet."
"You (expletive) suck."
Both Wilkins and Sleep-Dalton on Monday were unavailable to news media because it was their weekly off-day, as mandated by NCAA rules. For Wilkins, in his second season of starting, this probably was nothing new. If you're the starting quarterback at a Pac-12 school, criticism comes with the territory.
Social media just makes it a lot more personal. That doesn't mean it's acceptable, but simply part of a changing landscape that has no rules, regardless if the player is paid millions or still young enough to be turned away at a liquor store.
"Hey @FootballASU fans," former ASU quarterback Jake Plummer tweeted Sunday. "Remember '94? Don't be lame, be a true fan and remain positive if you want to help #players excel on the field #bnice."
Plummer's point: Although the Sun Devils struggled in 1994, two years later they played for a national championship.
As the university's highest-paid employee at $3.2 million per year, Graham understands. He's responsible for the back-to-back losing seasons. He's responsible for the shaky 1-1 start. Any insults directed his way, he can take. But he admits it's bothersome to see it directed at his players, whom he considers family.
"When I talked to our guys the other day, that's what I talked about," he said. "When I came in here I said we're going to be a program that competes for championships. We've done that. We're two games into (this) season so we have a ways to go before this season is evaluated. You bring criticism on yourself by not performing well and we did not perform well. I deserve the criticism when you have that."
Doug Haller writes for the Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network.
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