Following a Michigan State victory over Iowa back on Thursday, January 10, Michigan State senior Derrick Nix, a 6’9” center from Detroit took to Twitter and delivered his trademark postgame victory tweet.
“R.I.P ta da competition,” is what his tweets read following every Spartan win.
However, on this particular night, Nix decided to scroll through the twitter feed and see what other people had to say. What he saw was a series of insults all about him. And the people the abuse was coming from was from people who were supposedly fans of Michigan State and supporters of him.
In today’s age of social media, where almost everything becomes news the second it happens, today’s college athletes are exposed to more criticism and scrutiny than ever before. All day long, these 18-22 year old kids are subjected to the judgements of other people from all across the world. People they’ve never met and probably never will, just absolutely rip on them. It has gotten to a certain point that we all need to stop and ask ourselves: How much is too much?
“It’s almost like kids are always defending things before they realize what you’re saying,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said of a recent situation when a player began explaining himself to his coach when in fact he had done nothing wrong. “I think they get so pummelled by the social media and they read it and they’re so defensive because people are just pummeling them. I think it leads to why kids are like that.”
At times, the criticism starts before these young men even get to college. In December, when one of the top recruits in the nation, Jabari Parker chose Duke over Michigan State, several fans of Michigan State chimed in on twitter with their negative comments directed towards his decision.
Most recently, there is another situation very similar to this happening right now and it also deals with another potential recruit. This one being 2014 Michigan State football recruit Drake Harris. Harris, who committed to Michigan State last year, has now stated that while he is still committed to be a Spartan, he wants to take another look at some other schools to be sure he made the right choice. Some of the other schools that have begun moving in on him include Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Florida. Ever since Harris made it clear that he was taking another look, he has been scrutinized for wanting to re-evaluate his options.
And really, why is this any of our business? Why should any of us feel inclined to criticize these 17 year old kids? They are not “traitors.” The decisions they are making on where to got to school are probably the biggest ones they have ever made in their young lives and they have every right to think these things over.
When the time finally arrives and these kids step foot on campus, the pressure to perform at a high level is felt immediately. And when they don’t put up the kind of results that were expected of them or aren’t getting the type of playing time they were hoping, the pressure only builds up more as they start to hear it from the social media.
“It’s us against the world,” Izzo said. “You’ve got to home into here and if I tell you not to read this stuff, you better do what I do because I think it will help you.”
As a result of hearing and seeing this negativity all day and not living up to such high expectations, the transfer rate in college basketball is at an all time high.
One player that the pressure really got to this past year was former Michigan State guard Brandan Kearney. Last year as a freshman, Kearney came in as a not too highly regarded of a recruit out of Southeastern High School in Detroit. Still though, it could be seen that he wanted to have an impact on the team. But while fellow freshmen Travis Trice and Branden Dawson were earning several more playing minutes than his 9.6 mpg, the pressure started to build and a sense of self-worth began to settle in.
Kearney finished his first season at Michigan State averaging just 1.2 ppg, a far step down from what he was used to putting up in high school (18.5 ppg). Still, Kearney did a good job staying focused and doing what he needed to be doing. That is, so it seemed.
In Michigan State’s second round game last year in the NCAA tournament against Saint Louis, Kearney was picking up some extra playing time due to the injury to Branden Dawson. However, in this game, Kearney was not performing well. In 14 minutes of action, he had no points or rebounds, 3 fouls and a turnover. When Izzo pulled him out of the game, Kearney walked over to the bench, threw his fist in the air, drew his shirt over his face and began to have a nervous breakdown. At the time, nobody really thought much of this and everyone felt he would be able to bounce back from it.
Thus, the next season rolled around and Kearney was getting some extra playing time. Praised by his coach for his hard work and the fact that “he does his job” Kearney was putting in some good work in the 17 minutes he was out there on the floor. However, it still wasn’t the type of impact he felt he could have, so after coming back from Christmas break, Kearney informed Izzo that he was transferring to a different school. Since the bizarre timing of this announcement, Kearney has since transferred to Arizona State.
The point I’m getting here at is, how can this all be avoided? How can these players not succumb to the pressure of the social media? After all, in this day and age, it’s the culture that these players have been brought up in. And it’s another part of the culture where players have a “play me now” type of mentality, and it’s only encouraged when they hear it from the social media. So how do you shut these kids out from all this?
“That’s where a good leader can come in,” Izzo says. “When a player says to a player don’t watch that stuff, don’t listen to that stuff, don’t believe that stuff, it’s one thing. When a coach does it like a parent, it doesn’t have the same impact.”
So as we move forward in college sports today, we really need to take a step back and look at what the social media is doing to these young college athletes today. What’s going on right now is not healthy and needs to change for the better.
Follow Ryan Squanda on twitter @squandarunner