A week ago, Jennifer Gish of the Albany Times-Union, who is described as a features reporter, sports columnist, and parenting blogger, wrote an article entitled “Bills fans need help keeping it real” after Buffalo’s 2-0 start. Many Bills fans were not happy with her piece, which depending on your view, could be considered good natured mocking or mean-spirited taunting of a particular fan base in a region with divided sports loyalties.
Today, she ran a follow-up piece based on the responses received: Another Group Deserves Respect. In the aftermath, she received some hate mail (I’m sure none of it was from Stephen Douglas, since the object of her scorn was not local hero Jimmer Fredette). Most of the published responses focus on the fact that she is a woman and made reference to her appearance. Numerous profanities and invitations to engage in various sexual acts were extended. Among the lowlights:
YOU SUCK DONKEY D***! That’s why females shouldn’t be allowed to write articles about sports. You better not write a good article about the Bills now because then everyone will know that you really just a dumb, bandwagon slut.
seen some photos of you and you are as ugly as your story about we bills fans.
we may lose, we may win but you will still be ugly either way.
in response to this story
GO TO HELL
and you may want to consider plastic surgery or something, you are one god awful ugly looking female.
I am a well educated, compassionate, thoughtful, and caring man. I still am after reading your article, but my response will not be erudite or clever; that I promise you.
Simply put, f*** you you stupid, arrogant, thoughtless b****, and stick all of your snide Bills comments up your a**
This raises several questions when it comes to journalism, fan interaction, and the breakdown of civility. Let’s first get to the obvious one. She did not ask for this, regardless of the content and substance of the initial column. The same mentality that would justify sexist comments or attacks on a person’s appearance, because they question whether Buffalo is really New York’s true team, is akin to wearing opponent’s jerseys at a road game as being justification for violence. Because your sports team has been “disrespected” does not justify horrendous behavior.
Second, we have a long way to go when it comes to sports and sexism. Name calling is not limited to women in sports writing, though the specific brand of sexism portrayed here is more passionate and full of venom. I do not have to deal with this, and I have no concept of what it is like to receive such hateful words. Whether the article itself was worthy of critique does not justify attacks on a person and their gender.
Finally, there’s the issue for media members of how to handle hate mail. Criticism is part of the territory, even if some of it is beyond the pale. People take their sports seriously, sometimes too much so, and attempts at humor and tone don’t always translate well on the internet. Here, the writer published anonymous excerpts from some of the responses. Some write (attempts at) humorous columns about the hate mail, making fun of the individuals. Others publish names of people that send hate mail, presumably to shame them. Many, I am sure, ignore them in large part. Others interact privately to some limited extent.
I don’t know that there’s a right answer here. We know that people who are largely anonymous will say things they would never say to a person in public; I suppose one response is to shame them by making it public if the response lacks civility or common decency. On the other hand, I think such action by the writer takes it another step toward putting attention on them. I’m not sure that most other readers care to know what an unhinged person who took things way too seriously said. I think in the end, the right answer is heavily dependent on the situation, the magnitude, and the nature of the response.
[photo via Albany Times-Union]