Imagine growing up as Maize and Blue-blooded as the most die-hard of Michigan fans. Wearing your Charles Woodson jersey to school the day before a game for good luck. Daydreaming of catching a pass from Tom Brady.Getting to the Big House three hours early to get the best spot to stretch your arm over the rail of the tunnel and slap hands with the likes of LaMarr Woodley, Cato June or Chad Henne – not unlike any other kid with a dream.
Now, fast forward a few years. And you’ve done it. You worked long enough and hard enough to become one of the gridiron heroes you had always looked up to.
You are a Michigan Wolverine.
This story of dreams realized is not just a story, but the story of many of the players who proudly carry on our cherished Michigan tradition as members of Team 135.
And, I feel that the time has come for all of us to regain our perspective as to who these kids are.
The kids out on that football field in Michigan Stadium are the same kids who had dreamt of being there. And, we as fans are lucky enough to play a part in what it is they have come to Michigan to experience: an opportunity unlike any other in college football. The chance to wear the Winged Helmet. The chance to feel the chills as they run out of the tunnel on a beautiful Saturday afternoon to the tune of “The Victors” sung by 112,000+ die-hard football fans who have packed in to watch them take on the conference’s biggest foes. The chance to become a Michigan Man.
It’s what they were born to do. Play football on the biggest stage. And it’s their time.
Their grind is endless, but even as they work toward their goal, they’ve known since day one that their dream would come with a price. Holidays missed. Birthdays spent running drills in rain and 43-degree weather. Countless hours spent giving everything that they have both on and off the field to the sport and the university that they love. But, they do it all with pride. For the love of the game and the community they represent.
They’re learning. They’re growing. They’re KIDS.
Inevitably, of course, losses happen. Mistakes happen. But lately, instead of shouts of “you’ll get ’em next time” or “keep your head up”, a number of rogue ‘fans’ choose to get angry and take to outlets such as Twitter and Facebook to irrationally attack and condemn our student-athletes because they didn’t get that two-point conversion in the third quarter.
Sadly, even the most ardent Michigan fan’s “Go Blue!” is now drowned out by racially-charged messages aimed to demean and denigrate our quarterback because, well, there were just way too many interceptions thrown that afternoon – and he needs to hear about it.
As if he doesn’t feel bad enough about it already.
When did the paradigm shift? And what are these kids doing to deserve this kind of treatment – other than playing the game that they love?
I mean, can you imagine what that must feel like? Every day. Knowing that every time you log on to social media, you will be subjected to derisive ridicule and some of the worst kinds of correspondence from some of the worst kinds of people. In this day of smart phones, tablets and 24-hour news, boundaries are virtually non-existent. There is no ‘off’ switch.
Just take a moment to put yourself in their position as an 18 to 23-year-old college student (or a recruit, for that matter). It’s hard to imagine what our own lives would’ve looked like to others when we were that age. The successes, the failures, the mistakes. I’m sure that we all have some moments from that time in our lives that if examined under our modern social media microscope would be very easy to judge from the comfort of our respective keyboards.
So, in light of all of this, I feel that it’s time we start a new tradition. It’s time we all begin to show our student-athletes a lot more of our online respect as a Michigan family.
When in doubt, simply step away from the computer. And breathe.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am by no means writing this to tell you that you aren’t allowed to get angry. That you aren’t allowed to get frustrated when things aren’t going our way. It’s ok to be passionate. Truth be told, some of the things I have said during a game within the friendly confines of my living room have been a bit NSFW to say the least. Believe me. I get it. But, taking that type of passion and choosing to aim it toward our student-athletes as a form of misdirected hostility is just something that none of us should ever do.
It’s as simple as that.
I know that the words in this post aren’t going to just change people and their attitudes. This message isn’t going to all of a sudden magically alter people’s personalities and make all of the hate and judgment evaporate from my timeline in an instant.
But, perhaps it will help someone to think twice when they feel the need to spew vitriol at a teenager over a football game. Or maybe it will help fans use their head before they inappropriately display their anguish online by threatening a recruit over the fact that they chose to live out their collegiate football dream at another university because it was what was best for them.
Hopefully, it will remind fans to think about the student-athlete. The player’s family. Their friends. Maybe now, they will stop to consider the player’s deathless loyalty to the program that all of us love more than anything else in the world – and recognize that while they may not be meeting your expectations as a fan, they are working tirelessly day in and day out to exceed their own.
It’s natural to want your team to win. No matter what. To be victorious. We want all of our teams to be successful. That is the nature of sport and its fandom. But, instead of trolling a kid with hate speak over a bad snap or a missed field goal, let’s choose to help our student-athletes remain motivated and focused on being the best by showing them that we believe in them.
Because fundamentally, that is what all of our student-athletes need: support. Antagonizing them and forcing them to endure a constant barrage of hate and unsolicited negative contact is simply counter-productive to the cause: not to mention the fact that it makes you not a very nice person in general.
Just be a true fan. Try to stay positive. Encourage our players. Help them keep going. Let them know to never give up: because WE BELIEVE in them. Show them that win or lose, we are proud and appreciative of their effort and their commitment to this university and this program that we hold so close to our hearts.
It’s their moment. Their time. They are the ones who have worked day in and day out to achieve this dream. We’re simply along for the ride.
So, enjoy it, Michigan fans.
And let our kids be.
Let them be kids.