Cook: Fanatics serious threat to athletes

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The money! The fame! The privileges! The glamour! The death threats!

Being the wife of a professional athlete isn't what it used to be.

The Milwaukee Brewers' hot-hitting catcher, Jonathan Lucroy, is on the disabled list and missing the weekend series against the Pirates because of a freak hotel-room accident a week ago. According to Lucroy, his wife, Sarah, knocked over a suitcase that fell on his right hand, breaking a bone that will keep him out of the lineup for at least a month. Almost immediately, she became the target of hateful messages on Facebook and Twitter.

"It's not like she's not hurt enough already, not feeling guilty enough already," Lucroy told a Milwaukee radio station. "I really wish people would just leave her alone, leave us alone, just let us move forward and get this behind us."

Last month, Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Blake missed a wide-open 3-point shot at the end of a 77-75 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2 of their NBA playoff series. Blake took a beating on social media. So, regrettably, did his wife, Kristen. "I hope your family gets murdered," a tweeter wrote to her.

Nice, huh?

"It's pretty disappointing that there are a lot of hateful people out there, but you move on," Blake told the Los Angeles media. "I just don't appreciate it when it's toward my family. You can come at me all you want, but when you say things about my wife and my kids, that makes me upset."

What a world we live in.

It used to be that you picked up a newspaper and read about an athlete's accomplishments. Then there was a period when there frequently were stories about a sports figure being arrested. Now, hardly a day goes by without news of a player -- or his wife -- receiving death threats.

The year isn't even half over and it has happened to Kyle Williams of the San Francisco 49ers, C.J. Wilson of the Chicago Bulls and J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks. "Hope you die in your sleep," someone tweeted to Williams, who lost a fumble in overtime in the 49ers' loss to the New York Giants in the NFC championship game.

Sick, right?

But that was nothing like the hate dumped on Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward. Twice, actually. Ward, who is black, got racial tweets from Boston fans after his overtime playoff goal eliminated the Bruins, then again from Washington fans after his four-minute high-sticking penalty led to a playoff loss to the New York Rangers. The slurs aren't printable here. Just know that it couldn't have been easy for Ward to "move on," to use Blake's words.

But it's not just pro athletes who have to deal with the nonsense. University of Michigan recruit Logan Tuley-Tillman became a social media target last week when he posted a picture of himself burning a recruiting letter from Ohio State. Sure, it was a really dumb thing to do by an immature high school kid. But did Tuley-Tillman deserve the threats he received from ridiculously sensitive Ohio State fans? Did his mother really have to be abused on Facebook? The Michigan coaches quickly warned Tuley-Tillman to be more careful. Their message: There are a lot of lunatics out there.

Do you think maybe some people take sports a little too seriously?

That's always the easy explanation for the criminal behavior. Many fans live through their favorite sports team and take their self-worth from the team's success. That's really pathetic, if you think about it. Those are sad people. You are one if you still haven't gotten over the underachieving by the Penguins in their playoff loss to the Philadelphia Flyers or the Tebowing of the Steelers in their playoff loss to the Denver Broncos.

But there's more to this than just sports fanatics gone wild. Many of the people who attacked Lucroy's wife, Blake's wife, Williams and Ward aren't serious sports fans. They are just losers in life who were looking for a reason to play the fool. You see them emerge from the darkness of their world to riot after their hometown team wins or loses a championship. They couldn't care less about the results. They just want to feel important by being disruptive. They have nothing else. They are so pitiable.

The players and their families are easy targets. Social media empowers the creeps. They blast away unconscionably with anonymity. There are no repercussions. There are no court dates and jail time.

And all of us -- not just the sports figures -- are a little worse because of it.


First Published June 3, 2012 12:00 AM


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