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Time to Get Serious on Death Threats

Jun 1, 2009 – 12:30 PM
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Clay Travis

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Saturday, Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton became the latest college athlete to acknowledge receiving death threats. This adds Crompton's name to a growing list of players who have received death threats for on-field actions. You don't even have to be that famous anymore to draw fan ire. From West Virginia kicker Pat McAfee to Ohio State tight end Ryan Hamby, the past several years have seen a scary increase in threats of violence. Even though they might not have been publicized if you're a fan of a major college football team, chances are one of your players has received a death threat. And it's high time this ends. I mean, now, immediately. How? By prosecuting one of the boneheads who sends a threat to the fullest extent of the law.

By that, I mean I want one of these guys -- or girls -- to do serious jail time. If the purpose of punishment is not just to punish an act, but also to send a message to society about what we'll collectively stand for, isn't it high time we send that message? Because right now I firmly believe most of the people who make these threats don't believe they'll ever be punished for what they do. And if someone doesn't feel the threat of public exposure and punishment, then these threats are going to continue to grow. Put simply, we can't stand for it. Not as fans, not as adults, not as a remotely decent public.

We've entered a technological era where no matter how famous you are, you're easily reachable by people you don't know. Especially if you're just a kid in college. You have an e-mail address that is probably readily accessible to fellow students, you probably have a Facebook page. Heck, if you're playing LSU, your cell phone number is even likely to end up public on message boards. Somewhere along the way with all these potential avenues for communication, we've lost our balance about what is and isn't permissible. Many of us believe that athletes we see on television aren't real people. So we vent to them in a way that we would never vent to people we actually know. And whereas in the past this venting was never able to reach the actual target, now it does. Often with scary results.

What would you think one day if you opened your e-mail folder, and someone had threatened to kill you? You'd probably be shocked, then scared, but you'd also be angry as hell. You'd want that person to have to pay, and you'd probably go to the authorities and make them aware of the threat. Sadly, if you're an athlete at a major college, you aren't even surprised when these e-mails arrive. How have we gotten to this point as a society? I'll tell you, by not making an example of someone, by not showing that emailed threats have serious consequences outside the computer screen.

Right now we expect athletes to brush off these threats, tell them to shrug off the haters (news flash, those who threaten death aren't haters, they're felons) and use it as fuel to turbocharge their performance for the next game. Often, like Crompton, the athletes are reluctant to talk about the death threats because they think it will distract from playing a game. I think this is completely the wrong advice, and that we're sending the wrong message about these threats by treating them as if they aren't that serious. All that does is make the death threats keep coming. And if not for you, then for someone else. Plus, in this day and age, who knows which of these threats are serious and which aren't?

That's why a college needs to send a message and take these threats completely serious.

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    Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno speaks with media in Fogelsville, Pa., before the "Evening With Joe" event on Wednesday, May 27, 2009. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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    Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, center, drops into a three-point stance with Matthew Rauscher, left, and Frankie Rauscher, right, before the "Evening With Joe" event Wednesday, May 27, 2009, in Fogelsville, Pa. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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    Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno speaks with media in Fogelsville, Pa., before the "Evening With Joe" event on Wednesday, May 27, 2009. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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    Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno speaks with media in Fogelsville, Pa., before the "Evening With Joe" event on Wednesday, May 27, 2009. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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If the e-mails come from an easily identifiable person, then I want them arrested immediately. If they come from an anonymous e-mail address, then I want investigators tracking down the e-mailer. When I was in college at George Washington, a kid got drunk and e-mailed a death threat to the President. I think he did it to show off to others. Hours later the secret service showed up at his dorm room door. He got kicked out of school and prosecuted. You can bet everyone got the message in a damn hurry, don't screw with the President.

That's what needs to happen with college athletes and death threats. As soon as the people who made the threats are tracked down, I want the college to contact the local and national media, and I want the cameras standing in the front yard when the front door gets kicked in and these guys get arrested. I want their name, profession, picture, and the content of their e-mail message made public. I want public opprobrium to rain down on them. I want other weaklings who sit in front of their computers and contemplate reaching out and threatening someone to think about the consequences that might rain down on them. And I want the writers to go to jail for as long as is legally possible. And so should you.

Colleges and athletic departments talk a big game about doing the best for their student-athletes. It's high time, they proved it by sending a message about what will and won't be tolerated. Go after them to the fullest extent of the law.
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