Originally, this was going to be a posting about Tennessee fans, a group I held in high regard before my favorable opinion of the Volunteer faithful largely was soured by the effect Lane Kiffin’s unrelenting obnoxiousness had upon them; specifically, it was going to be a posting about how the reaction of Big Orange boosters to the war of words between Bacarri Rambo and Da’Rick Rogers included comments like this one from Rocky Top:
Athens, Ga Vol!!!
They like to run their mouths around here, A LOT! Unfortunately, they don’t back it up much. They are more worried about looking good in their red and black. I honestly think that in football they are the most overrated team in the SEC by their own opinion alone. They are still high from embarrassing us two weeks ago in basketball even though they haven’t cared about basketball since Tubby. If we take care of business on February 17th we can remind them where they belong, between South Carolina, Kentucky, and Vandy.
My original inclination was to answer the above-quoted commenter and the like-minded individuals who participated in the same discussion, but my initial flush of outrage has faded, leaving a very different emotion in its wake and producing a very different posting; viz.:
First, a little background is in order. On national signing day, Da’Rick Rogers signed with Tennessee after spending the previous several months verbally committed to Georgia. Following Rogers’s eleventh-hour change of heart, Bacarri Rambo updated his Facebook status to state that he thought it was "messed up how all of UGA high school commitments back out on us but I’m telling you now when I catch you on the field I’m going to knock fire from you."
While Rambo’s sentiment is understandable, he was wrong to express it in a public forum. Rogers chose Tennessee over Georgia at the last minute, just as Marlon Brown chose Georgia over Tennessee at the last minute a year ago. So-called verbal commitments are entirely non-binding, which is why no one takes them seriously. Players give verbal commitments yet continue to take official visits elsewhere; opposing coaches continue to pursue them; even the teams to which they supposedly have committed themselves stay on top of their own recruits in an effort to keep them in the fold. No one is naive about how little a verbal commitment means and all of us who were 17- and 18-year-old boys once know good and well that, at that age, young men say some things earnestly yet insincerely and say some other things sincerely in the moment, only to have the moment pass. It happens; it’s part of the game; neither Da’Rick Rogers nor anyone at the University of Tennessee did the ‘Dawgs dirty in this instance.
If Bacarri Rambo wants to use this as motivation, more power to him, but he doesn’t need to take it public, even obliquely without naming names. Rogers thereafter made the situation worse by offering an even more foolish response, stating on Twitter: "Who is Bacarri Rambo?" That’s an awfully ill-advised question for a young man to ask before he has even set foot on a college campus as anything other than a high school student, but highly-hyped athletes are not known for their circumspection.
Rambo’s reaction made matters worse, as his Twitter retort referred to Rogers as "pretty boy," and Rogers capped off the exchange with this jab: "last time i checked a big hit =’s you getting knocked out." Observers without a bulldog or a blue tick hound dog in the fight marveled that the last rejoinder "was rough," but I found it rather a curious choice on young Rogers’s part. I don’t know whether Da’Rick Rogers (who then intended to attend the University of Georgia) was in Sanford Stadium on the night of November 14, but I was, and here is what I observed about the moment Rogers derides:
On first down, Ben Tate was halted for a one-yard loss. On second down, an electrified Sanford Stadium was given a severe scare when Bacarri Rambo went down after delivering the touchdown-saving hit that separated the intended receiver from the football. There were two more downs to be played, but, truthfully, the game was over when Rambo, strapped immobile to a backboard and lifted onto the cart upon which he would be whisked away to receive medical attention, raised his right arm and gave the crowd the thumbs up that signaled to us that he would be all right. There would be no 2005-like fourth-down heroics by the Tigers this night.
Inevitably, the Alabamians moved backwards. Cornelius Washington dropped Todd for a seven-yard loss on third down. Back-to-back Auburn time outs could not stop the roaring crowd from inducing perhaps the most flagrant false start in the history of college football. Todd’s final desperate toss on fourth and 23 fell incomplete, and all that was left was what my father calls "the prettiest play in football": your quarterback taking a knee to bleed the final seconds from the game clock.
I have yelled that loudly for that long, cheered that lustily and that elatedly, and applauded that strongly and that sincerely, in Sanford Stadium more than once before, but it’s been a while---actually, it’s been exactly two years, since the last time our guys beat these guys in this venue, in a game that yielded a victory only slightly more stirring than this one---and, despite what my head shrewdly tells me, there was no convincing my heart in that moment that there has ever been anything wrong with being a Georgia Bulldog that beating the Auburn Tigers couldn’t fix.
Accordingly, what I think Da’Rick Rogers means by "a big hit =’s you getting knocked out" is "a big hit =’s winning the game to claim a fourth straight victory in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry over a team that beat the team with whom Da’Rick Rogers just signed," but that wouldn’t fit on a Twitter feed, I guess. In any case, though, the larger point is that, although Rogers shouldn’t have responded, he was, in fact, responding . . . first when the exchange was initiated by Bacarri Rambo on Facebook, then again when Rambo called him "pretty boy." Both players ought to have been bigger than they were and neither young man conducted himself in a manner that reflected well on himself or on his university.
The question is where they got the idea that this was acceptable behavior . . . and the answer, shamefully, is that they got that idea from the tenth most loathsome person in college football.
Last October, when Georgia lost to Tennessee, I devoted nine sentences of a sixteen-paragraph, eight-point posting to the Volunteers and what I wrote continued to be cited by Big Orange fans at least as recently as last weekend. Since the author of the posting linked to at the end of the previous sentence indicated that he wanted to meet me, I sent him a cordial e-mail explaining my position, outlining where I was proven wrong (e.g., in my statement that Tennessee would not attend a bowl game) and where I was proven right (i.e., in my statement that Lane Kiffin would not remain in Knoxville for long), and letting him know I would be happy to arrange to meet with him if he planned to be in Athens when the Vols came calling next fall. He wrote me back a gracious e-mail and all was well.
The anonymity of the internet makes it easy to dehumanize your opponent, who seems like less of a real person when he is just a screen name and a screed. When you glimpse the individual underneath---not the message board moniker who needs to get a life, but the person with a name and a job and a family who has a life---it becomes a lot harder to view him the way, say, this guy views me.
Urban Meyer is a classic example of this. He’s easy to dehumanize, but, when you see him as a son and as a husband and father, it becomes a lot harder to hate him and causes me to feel regret after the fact . . . which, in turn, causes Florida fans to lambaste me for my hypocrisy.
We start by assuming the worst, and not in the "when you expect the worst, your only options are to be proven correct or pleasantly surprised" way. For crying out loud, we spent two weeks getting bent out of shape over this:
That ad is about abortion in the same sense that Ernest Hemingway’s "Hills Like White Elephants" and the white zone/red zone exchange from "Airplane!" were about abortion: yeah, technically, but you never would have known it if you hadn’t been told. Our natural inclination to assume the worst, particularly about someone with different team loyalties or partisan affiliations, sent everyone into a tizzy over a 30-second spot in which Pam Tebow says she’s glad she has a son who, by all accounts, is a great kid.
The same sentiment spills over into exchanges like the one between Bacarri Rambo and Da’Rick Rogers. Had Rogers signed with Georgia last week, no one in Athens would be calling him "pretty boy" and he wouldn’t be feigning ignorance of the identity of the Bulldogs’ best returning defender. Had Rogers not signed with Tennessee last week, Georgia fans wouldn’t be calling him classless and Volunteer fans wouldn’t be reveling in his antics. Both sides condemn and condone based strictly on what color jersey a particular kid will be wearing next autumn.
The internet is a wonderful tool and an amazing mechanism for broadening our horizons, sharing insights and information, and connecting with our fellow man. It also enables us to unleash our basest instincts with impunity. This is not the fault of the internet, of course; in the words of the Drive-By Truckers, it don’t make you do a thing, it just lets you.
We---and I certainly include myself among that "we"---are worse sports, and worse people, because of the ways in which we are taking advantage of these astonishing technological advances. As the world grows smaller, seemingly, so do we. That has to stop.
This is not a posting about Tennessee fans; this is a posting about all of us, and about the common ground we share, and about the fact that we all ought to strive to share the common ground that is our love of sport rather than the common ground that is our shared conviction that our guys are perfect and everyone else is awful. We need not wait for the other fellow to be civil first. We should instead lead by example rather than needle one another childishly on Twitter. Let every man sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.