The Internet is amazing in many ways, but its glory often requires sacrifices. When a college athlete has a horrifying injury on national television, Twitter can provide a window to a world full of supportive, considerate people. But that directness can also expose college athletes to the worst side of the Internet, a stream of hatred and vitriol available in your pocket 24 hours a day. It makes it possible for grown adults who would take the time out of their day to write something hateful on the Internet to do so constantly with almost zero effort.
In other words, it can't be fun to be a struggling player at a school with an obsessed fan base. There were always news clippings and then talk radio and intense fans. But those annoyances have nothing on the ever-present pinging of venomous Twitter replies. People forget themselves. They troll. Things get ugly.
Russell Byrd knows this. The Michigan State shooting guard was the No. 20-ranked player at his position and the No. 61-ranked overall prospect in the class of 2010. He turned down offers from Kentucky, Michigan, Louisville, Indiana and Ohio State. He was going to be a sweet-shooting star. It never happened. Instead, Byrd had one injury after the other. When he has played he's been, well, rough. He would probably admit it. He had a 78.0 offensive rating on 18.1 usage in limited run, a bloated assist-to-turnover ratio, and a 7-for-41 mark from the 3-point line. You can't look back on the redshirt sophomore year Byrd just had and not realize he's having a tough time.
Of course, even if Byrd was blissfully unaware, there are those in the Michigan State fan base always ready to remind him. Even reasonable supporters took to loud groans. Byrd even received death threats; this is from an MLive.com story from January 30:
"One guy said he wanted to bury me at the bottom of the Red Cedar River,'' Byrd said. "That's laughable, you can't get caught up in stuff like that.''
He handled that better than most of us would, I'd say.
Which may be among the reasons why, despite the struggles, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo refuses to give up on Byrd. In fact, on Monday he went so far as to openly appeal for Michigan State fans to leave the kid alone. All Izzo is saying is give Byrd a chance. (That sentence is better if you imagine Izzo singing it to the Plastic Ono Band tune. Just a tip.) From MLive.com's Diamond Leung:
"I guess it doesn't bother me if anybody believes in him, but give him a chance because this will be the first true summer where he is going to be 99 percent healthy," Izzo said. "There's no question that kid can still help us because we need a shooter.
"He lives, eats and sleeps the game, and then I have to listen to him talking to me about Twitter and how people are just ripping him on this and that -- people who have no clue and no understanding. Am I disappointed in Russell Byrd? Two hundred percent. I'm disappointed because I had a guy who was a gym rat, who loves the game, who is a good kid and was dealt a bad set of cards."
Maybe Byrd's injuries -- three foot surgeries already in his career -- have rendered him a shell of the player that made him a star on the prep circuit. Or maybe it's all mental, a loss of confidence in a sport (and at a position, specifically) that requires it to be unwavering at all times. Whatever the case, Izzo thinks it's still in there. If his endorsement can't chill the insane wing of the Michigan State fan base*, nothing will.
*Oh, and before anyone pipes in with a crack about Michigan State fans, let the first fan base that doesn't include insane grown men and women writing dumb things on Twitter throw the first digital stone. Thought so.