“Honestly, what did I do to deserve this? I’m human.”
This was a tweet that went viral from a stunned and perplexed E.J. Liddell after Ohio State’s upset 72-75 loss to Oral Roberts University in the first round of the NCAA tournament, famously referred to by college basketball fans as March Madness.
Liddell, the star power forward for the Buckeyes, was responding to a barrage of vile tweets he received after OSU, the No. 2 seed in the South region, fell to the 15th-seeded Golden Eagles. The vitriol hurled at Liddell was a sordid outburst of racist profanities ending with, “Don’t ever show your face at Ohio State. We hate you,” and, “I hope you die I really do.”
Those of us who are loyal to our favorite college sports teams know that trolls masquerading as fans are always lurking in the shadowy spaces of social media, using their keyboards to shroud their insecurities. Many have speculated that the person who maliciously attacked Liddell on Twitter might have lost a huge sum of cash in bets as the Buckeyes’ shocking defeat busted everyone’s brackets. This could be true, but the more serious issue is that someone who spews hatred of this manner at a student athlete is mentally disturbed and needs help.
Liddell has been boldly speaking out about these toxic tweets and was recently interviewed on CNN. He said that the spiteful comments hurt his feelings and “kind of messed” him “up a little bit.” He also pointed out the hard work that he put in all season to help get the Buckeyes into the tourney, something that even sane fans often fail to completely appreciate. In the loss to Oral Roberts, Liddell was OSU’s leading scorer with 23 points, and he had 14 rebounds, a solid double-double that just wasn’t enough to win the game. While we were disappointed in Buckeye Nation, no one, as Liddell shared in his interview, was more devastated than he and his teammates by their early exit.
Looking at Liddell’s Twitter feed before the tournament began, he was having fun, like most college kids, and got into an amusing discussion about ranking the top five Disney movies. His list was an all-star one for his generation in this order: “Toy Story,” “Cars,” “Finding Nemo,” “Monsters Inc.,” and “The Princess and the Frog.” He then shared a laugh with one of his followers for omitting “The Lion King.”
As a public figure who is a star athlete in the Big 10 conference, Liddell can quickly go from an enjoyable interaction like this on social media to abruptly becoming the object of scorn. Of all the social media platforms that young people like Liddell use, I’ve always believed that Twitter is the worst, as it has been heavily associated with cyberbullying since its debut in 2006.
At just 20, Liddell is experiencing how repugnant the real world can be. I’m sure his parents prepared him well for the media spotlight that he is presently in at Ohio State, but in this age of social media, there is always something unnerving that can appear out of nowhere. I was one of hundreds of Ohio State fans who tweeted encouraging words to Liddell, and I’d like to add these gems of wisdom from Proverbs 1:8-9 that advise young men to listen to their “father’s instruction” and not to forsake their “mother’s teaching.” They will be “a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck”(NIV).
The opportunities before Liddell will open many doors for him to prosper professionally and personally. I pray that he continues to adhere to the sound counsel of his parents and seeks God for guidance as he pursues his goal of making it to the NBA. True Buckeye fans are grateful for the humbleness and class he displays as a representative of the university. He did nothing to deserve the contempt of the tweets he received, and thankfully, such repulsive words cannot cloud the bright future ahead of him.