Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware is the team’s top tackler and a lightning rod for criticism on Twitter. Some of the tweets cuss him out, others he laughs off.
But one was way out of line: His father had to contact the police after one person picked on Boulware’s little sister.
“Is it really that serious? You have to find my little sister and say something to her?” Boulware said. “It’s football. Sorry that I ruined your day so much, that I tackled your quarterback too hard. It’s ridiculous.”
The bigger the stage, the more fans talk about and taunt college players behind a Twitter handle. It’s a fact of life circa 2017. Ben Boulware knows that well. It’s a part of life as a college celebrity, and it means learning how to respond — or not respond — with the public watching every post.
“I hear it every day. I don’t care,” Boulware said. “If they want to take five minutes out of their day and tweet at somebody you don’t know, you’re a loser. Go do something with your life. Talking negative about somebody, it’s just so lame. Don’t you have something better to do?”
Is the best option to shut up? Snipe back? Engage with the fan? Go dark?
Boulware’s father, Jamie Boulware, contacted the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office after daughter Bailee, a Clemson junior, received a threat. He was told it wasn’t likely anything would come out of it.
The Twitter fallout has lightened up since the Louisville game, Jamie Boulware said. He asked a couple of the offenders to visit him at the family tailgate so they could talk, but they didn’t take him up on it.
“It’s a shame that these days people can say things like that without consequences,” he said.
All four playoff teams have stories about Twitter nastiness, and most players try to restrain themselves from firing back.
Clemson has a no-social-media policy during the season, a plan voted on by the players. Alabama coach Nick Saban lets players know that what they say on social media is part of their “brand,” for better or worse.
“This is sort of something that we’re constantly trying to address with players so that they can brand themselves in a positive way,” Saban said.
Former players can only marvel at what their successors have to deal with. Ex-Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy doesn’t think he would have been mature enough to handle the starting job as a freshman like Jalen Hurts , partly because of social media critics.
“I definitely couldn’t have handled it as an 18-year-old, especially if I was an 18-year-old in 2016,” said McElroy, now an analyst for the SEC Network. “It’s only been six years since I finished, and the world’s changed quite a bit in a very short period of time. It’s a tall order for sure and it does take a remarkable amount of maturity.”
Washington quarterback Jake Browning avoids some of the in-season attention, good or bad, by staying off Twitter. His last Tweet before the Huskies semifinal loss to Alabama came on Aug. 7: “Hello fall camp. Goodbye Twitter.”
Ohio State guard Billy Price says he “could get a false start and I get crucified on Twitter.” He says that’s just reality and there’s nothing players can do but try to get better. It’s also a splash of reality because they’ve gotten so much in-person praise during their careers.
“That’s the cold, hard truth of it,” Price said. “Especially in this program, because the truth comes at you fast. It’s hard, especially as a young guy when you’re not ready for that. You’ve never been told you suck because you’re in high school and you’re around your hometown and people love you.
“You go to Wal-Mart and people love you. You see the little old lady at church that loves you and you give her a hug and say, ‘Hi, Mrs. Smith.’ But once you come here, the truth comes out. You got beat, you lost. Just get better. That’s what it comes down to.”
Then again, he didn’t much appreciate people tweeting at his girlfriend that “your boyfriend’s trash.”
Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis grew up seeing and hearing people criticize his father, Gary Pettis, a former major league outfielder who won five Gold Gloves and is now the Houston Astros’ third base coach. He said there will always be people who “say bad stuff.”
“If that’s what they think that’s what they think,” Dante Pettis said. “Maybe they’re jealous of where we are, maybe they wish they could be here. But at the end of the day we know what we’re doing is good so that’s all that matters.”
Alabama tailback Damien Harris, one of the Crimson Tide’s more frequent posters, said one user once said he hoped he would break his leg and have a career-ending injury.
He got some backlash in September after posting comments about a presidential debate , which later was a topic in his political communications class.
“People were all like, ‘Stick to football. You don’t know what you’re talking about,'” Harris said. “So I’m like, ‘Since I play football, that means I can’t be involved in something that affects me?’ That stuff didn’t make sense. Just like everything else, you read it and then you move on.”
Washington running back Myles Gaskin said he tries not to spend much time looking at responses to his posts. His solution: Block the worst offenders.
“It’s definitely part of the game,” Gaskin said. “People are going to say what they’ve got to say but at the end of the day true fans of UW and anybody that supports this university, I feel like they’ll only give us constructive criticism. They’ll always have our backs.
“Anybody that is out there saying mean stuff I know you’ve got something better to do. Don’t bother me with it. That’s the way I look at it.”
AP Sports writers Pete Iacobelli, Mitch Stacy and Tim Booth contributed to this report.
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