Online criticism has been quite the hot topic in the A10 recently. Dayton coach Anthony Grant gave an impassioned speech defending his players and criticizing the hate-filled direct messages some of his players received from upset gamblers after the Flyers lost to VCU in the final seconds. After the Dayton-GW game, GW coach Chris Caputo seconded Grant’s comments and mentioned his players have been on the receiving end of online abuse. UMass coach Frank Martin also made a series of comments regarding online criticism both towards him and his players that made waves on A10 Twitter.
With the separate rises of online gambling and NIL, players are finally getting paid over the table for their efforts, and many observers of sporting events (I hesitate to call these people fans) feel they have an increased stake in the proceedings. Combine that with social media giving easy access to the players and coaches themselves, and it’s easier than ever for some idiot to fire off a quick threat to some 19 year old kid over a lost bet. That’s obviously beyond the pale and completely wrong. The rise of easy online and mobile betting becoming legalized in many states is clearly leading to a national rise in toxic betting culture. Kudos to Grant for speaking up and doing so in a really effective manner.
That being said, it’s easy to mix up this type of over the line, asshole behavior and turn it into advocating that no fans should ever criticize players or coaches. That’s wrong! It’s totally within bounds to tweet or post or write or vocalize over Spaces respectful criticism of the on-court product. However, it is undeniable that players and coaches have more ability to see those criticisms than ever before. It is undeniable that many people on Twitter and other social media platforms can go over the top and cross the line with their posts. Thus, we come to a vital question: where does the line sit?
We live in a free country with substantial First Amendment freedom of speech protections. This is a great thing. I also think it is fair to say that the line for appropriate levels of basketball criticism stops well short of exercising one’s full First Amendment right to be a complete jerk. The guy who sent Trayce Jackson-Davis that insane letter? He likely didn’t do anything legally wrong, and he was exercising freedom of speech but he definitely crossed the line in terms of basketball fandom (and sanity). Any type of critical direct message to a player or…