For Every Recruit Action There Is A Completely Ludicrous Fan Reaction
This has to be some kind of record even for me. Andrew Wiggins (the next, LeBron, Jordan, Magic, whoever was Magic before Magic) is a little over 12 hours from announcing which college that he probably really doesn’t want to and shouldn’t have to go to that he will attend for a year or so, and I’m already disgusted by the reaction to it.
To be fair – to me and to the reaction – much like Wiggins’ prolonged decision-making process, the reaction to it is sort of an ongoing entity.
There have been fans who have been upset that he’s drawn the process out for so long, claiming that he’s seeking publicity. God forbid the guy make a thoughtful, rational decision about where he wants to spend his college season and wait until he’s sure.
In the lead up to Wiggins’ announcement every man, woman, child, puppy, badger and hedgehog who covers recruiting – whether on the internet, stone tablets, papyrus or smoke signals has been harassed nearly to the point of retirement with the “Where will Wiggins go?” question. It has been a months-long study in whether or not “I don’t know” really means “I don’t know.”
Once upon a time people complained about high school athletes turning their announcements into massive media events. Now that there’s a cable channel in ESPNU that dedicates a fair portion of its time to helping make these announcements massive media events, the tide seems to have turned. Today I saw Wiggins referred to as a “diva” for making his announcement privately, among family friends and coaches with one print and one TV reporter on hand to chronicle the event.
Moral of the story: No matter which way these kids decide to go, it won’t be good enough for somebody who somehow feels entitled to their decision.
And once Wiggins’ decision hits the airwaves, Twitterverse and wherever else, some set or sets of inexplicably aggrieved fans will take to those same channels and blast the kid. Some of what is said to and about him will be the vilest material you will ever wish you had never read. Sure, Herald-Leader columnist Mark Story has hoped out loud that that won’t happen. That’s what I really like about Mark, he hopes for the good in people. Unfortunately we all know that masses of those people will let him down.
This is what happens when we become obsessed with the decision making of 18 year olds; when we get so wrapped up in the process that they go through to make what may very well be the first major decision of their lives, that we lose all sense of reason, of decency and of civility.
The response has become all too common as fans who were once interested in the scores of actual games, have become increasingly concerned about teenagers who may never play for their team.
I’m not sure when it became this way. I guess somewhere at the conflux of the internet age and the social media boom. The first three high school players I ever remember caring about where they went to college were Dicky Beal and Troy McKinley (Kentucky) and Doug Schloemer (Cincinnati) – all northern Kentucky guys. And even if I had been disappointed in their decisions, I had no way to tell them how angry I was at them. Well, I could have told Schloemer since he played pickup basketball sometimes at a house up the street from me, but I wouldn’t have – and not just because he was bigger and older than me and could shave, but because I didn’t have a say in where he went. Well, that and because he was bigger and older than me and had to shave.
To be clear, I don’t blame the recruiting reporters and the recruiting Web sites for any of this. I respect the work they do, and those guys work their tails off. One of the many things that has made this country great is that if there is a way to make money, somebody can and will make it. I’ll never fault anybody for that, but you can’t say that their proliferation – coupled with the direct access to athletes that social media provides — has been good for us as sports fans.
First of all, it’s turned us into people who never seem to care enough about today, about this game. No sooner had Kentucky won the 2012 National Championship (and in some cases before then), people were talking about the next recruiting class coming in and the chance to win a ninth. And no matter how the last UK season went (ending with a loss in the NIT for those of you who have wiped it from your memories), people were talking about No. 9 again with another round of recruits even before those recruits arrived on campus. Second, it’s turned some of us into monsters, hiding behind screen names and false identities to spew venom at a teenager who had the gall to go to school wherever he wanted.
I’m not sure what the answer is for guys like Wiggins – athletes who live in the public eye at a young age, occasionally reluctantly. I’ve heard it said that he sought all this out. How, exactly? By being good at something? Because he can play basketball better than anybody else his age, that gives college basketball fans a reason to be bothered by a choice he makes? Is it because he plays games on national TV? So should he turn down the chance to play in the All-Star games? Turn down the opportunity to make the most of his abilities in exchange for the chance to not get hassled? How does that make sense?
I will say this; were I Wiggins’ parents (which as far as I know I am not) I would have him shut off his Twitter, his Facebook (if he has one) and whatever other outlet people have to be directly obnoxious to him. No good can come of reading any of that. Of course, that’s unfair to him. I’m sure his friends have those things. Twitter and Facebook are kind of cool, lots of kids have them and I’m sure he’d love to have those options, but in the modern sports world, the tradeoff for his talent is apparently not being able to do many of the things his less sports-talented friends do without worry.
Obviously, I don’t know where Wiggins will decide to play his several months of college basketball. The more I read about it, the more it seems nobody else really does either. Wherever that happens to be, though, I wish him well, hope he manages not to get injured playing a season that shouldn’t have to happen and that by and large, the people who seem to feel so entitled to his services don’t spend their entire afternoons acting like idiots tomorrow.